The definition of a project includes that it is a temporary endeavor. We do, after all, want to finish it at some point. Projects have a beginning and an end. And, like a trip, it pays to know where you are going before you start. If you’re going to plan a successful project, regardless of what it is, you need to start from the end point.
Spending the time to answer some basic questions about a project’s end state will help get you to the finish line faster and with fewer detours.
“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” -TS Eliot Tweet
Before you begin any project, I suggest you spend some time thinking about and answering these questions:
What does “done” mean?
This should be the first question you ask yourself. If I’m planning to launch a new software product, is the end goal just to get the product technically ready? Or do I also need to sell it to customers and support those customers for a period of time before the project will be done? Oh wait, what I am really talking about doing is building a company. This is a much bigger project now!
Don’t worry about making the project too big during this early planning phase. It is best to have the eventual, long term goal in mind. If we are going to the moon, our project might look just a wee bit different than planning a birthday party.
Your project may seem overwhelming, but you’ll be able to break your it down into small chunks soon enough. Now is the time to really ask yourself: What are we aiming for?
When your project is complete, what will I see that proves that it is done?
This is related to the above question, but drills a bit further into the details. If my project is to get married, “done” might be simply that we are now married, but this isn’t all that helpful.
We may also want other outcomes such as:
- Our friends and family had a great time and felt comfortable.
- Everyone ate good food and danced to salsa music.
- Our family got to know our closest friends.
- We had a beautiful outdoor ceremony.
- No one shoved cake in my face.
- We now have nice photos and a high quality video to remember the day.
Having clarity around what the successful completion of your project looks and feels like is very helpful not only to planning for the right project, but also in streamlining its planning and execution. You will save time (and trouble) later by taking the time now to think about what “done” really means.
For me, using sticky notes or a visual, planning tool like Cardsmith is very helpful to facilitate the thinking process. You might start by putting each component of what would be in place when your project is done, and then add other items to the list and group them together and even prioritize. If your project involves people besides just you, you’ll for sure want to include them in this brainstorming process.
This post was updated in March 2020.