Sometimes getting a project up and running after it's handed to you (or for a personal project, after you've decided to take it on) can seem like nailing jello to a tree.  Where do you start?  Even with the smallest project there's a lot of information to sift through.


Whether you have an agile project or a waterfall project, most of the parts of starting up are the same.  Although you may tackle some of these iteration by iteration in an agile methodology, they all need to be addressed.

 Here are the steps in order:


  1. Document the goals of the project and get agreement from all the key players.  Be sure that all of the 4 dials (schedule, content, resource, and quality) are included in the goals.
  2. Identify and validate your own assumptions and those of key stakeholders.  Once you get agreement, document these.
  3. Deal with the tasks
    1. Figure out what the big pieces are
    2. Arrange the big pieces in a rough order based on which need to be done first
    3. Break the big pieces into smaller more manageable subtasks
  4. Identify your resources
    1. Sometimes these are people, sometimes money, sometimes skills, sometimes equipment
    2. Associate tasks with resources
  5. Figure out the dependencies
    1. Start with what tasks depend on what other tasks. 
    2. Remember that although most dependencies are finish to start (one task has to finish before the dependent tasks starts) you can also have start to start dependencies (one task has to be underway before the dependent task can start) and finish to finish dependencies (one task has to finish before the dependent task finishes)
    3. Take resources into consideration.  If you only have one person with the skill to do a set of tasks, those tasks are going to end up being dependent on each other just so the person can be free to start the next one)
  6. Take your best guess at how long each task will take.  (It's nice to wait until you assign resources to do this so that if the resource is a person you can get that person's input on the duration)
  7. Put it all together to get start and end dates for the tasks (you'll have to have a project start date for this to work).  This is the step where tools like MS Project prove their worth.
  8. Build in some contingency for risky tasks and/or for the project as a whole


That's it.  8 steps, not a huge amount when you break it down.

Obviously, some of the steps become less formal if it's a personal project or a project you're just working on by yourself (things like documenting goals and assumptions, although taking a crack at them really can help provide clarity).  For agile projects, 3-6 become lather/rinse/repeat kind of things.


Step by step, you'll tame the start-up monster!