Think about the last time you failed at work. What are the chances you could have avoided that failure had you taken a little extra time to plan?
If you’re a project manager the answer to that question is obvious. You’re paid to be the Planner-in-Chief of your project teams. Project failure comes from missed communication, blown budgets, and unforeseen roadblocks.
While some of those things are unavoidable, there’s a strategy you can utilize to increase your chances of project success.
What is project onboarding?
Project onboarding is the process of gathering the necessary resources and team members to ensure a project is completed correctly. Project onboarding involves the project manager front-loading the planning process so that projects can be completed on time with all the required deliverables.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that project onboarding is integral to project success. You can avoid issues and streamline workflows with the right project onboarding strategy. By taking the extra time on the front end of project planning, you can eliminate possible roadblocks near the end of a project’s completion.
5 common problems project onboarding helps solve
There’s nothing worse than getting halfway through a project only to realize it doesn’t align with overall company goals. Or worse yet, you find out you’re on a project that nobody told you about in the first place.
These types of problems are more common than you think. 75% of employees say they believe their projects are doomed from the start.
Project onboarding is your chance to prevent wasted time and resources before they happen. Here are a few common project problems that your project onboarding strategy will help fix ahead of time.
1. Project miscommunication
The client wants one thing, your dev team is telling you it’s not possible, and your sales team is asking for the moon. Project onboarding and planning will help you get everyone involved with a project on the same page before getting started. This helps manage expectations and ensure everyone is working toward the same shared goal.
2. Lack of necessary tools
If I asked you to knit me a scarf but didn’t provide you with knitting needles or yarn, do you think you could still make a scarf? You might be able to even without the traditional tools, but it would take you much more time and effort.
This same logic should be applied to any project your team takes on. Project onboarding requires you to sit down with your team and figure out what you’ll need to get the project over the finish line before you begin.
3. Blown project budgets
Nothing will stop a project faster than running out of budget. According to the article above, 55% of project managers cited budget overrun as a reason for project failure.
When your team establishes the entire project lifecycle within your project onboarding the chances of blowing your budget decrease drastically. Involving everyone from the beginning will help you set more realistic goals for your project budget.
4. Understanding project priority
There are very few people who work on one project at a time before moving onto the next. It can be hard for employees involved in multiple projects to prioritize their daily workflows. Project onboarding helps communicate project importance to everyone involved.
This can include what priority it takes in their day-to-day work or how flexible project deadlines can be. It’s one small part of getting your project team on the same page.
5. Customer dissatisfaction
If your project includes an external customer, there’s a level of importance in delivering exactly what the customer wants. Project onboarding includes a client brief phase where your team communicates expectations with the client.
Including this as a formal part of the process will help your team deliver a project that makes your client happy. It also saves your team from multiple rounds of back and forth edits. This helps lead to a better project delivered on time and on budget.
How to create a project onboarding process
Building workflows and processes from scratch is tough. Striking the balance between pre-planning and over-preparing is tough. You want to feel ready to tackle things head-on, but leave yourself room to evolve with the project.
Project onboarding allows the perfect space to do all of that and more. This four-step process will answer all the questions regarding a project, allow you to build your project dream team, and set yourself and your team up for success.
Meet with the client
Whether the client is an external partner or someone within your company, this is an important first step to take. Communicating the expectations of a project before it begins increases the chances that the project will succeed.
Sit down with the client and discuss their vision for the project. What are they asking of you and your team? Give them space to discuss their thoughts and then narrow focus.
Here are some things you should cover in your first meeting with a client:
What’s the goal of this project?
What are the must-haves for this project?
What’s the budget for this project?
How you’ll measure success for this project?
What deliverables will be included in this project?
Who needs to be involved in this project?
Covering these basics will allow your team to dig deeper into the project requirements. Discuss these details at length before your project kickoff. This prevents confusion and gets everyone on the same page.
Confirm the project viability
After you’ve discussed the project details, you can move forward with confirming the project is viable. Most teams prefer to start with a feasibility study before creating a project onboarding checklist. A feasibility study answers whether a project is possible and a project checklist outlines how a project will be completed.
How to conduct a project feasibility study
Before your project can begin, it’s important to check whether it’s possible. A feasibility study consists of research prior to the approval of a project. It includes looking at the proposed cost of a project, resources required, ROI, and more.
There are six steps in a feasibility study that will help your team determine if a project is worth your time and effort:
Conclusion and final decision
Project feasibility studies are not black and white. For example, you may find that a project won’t be successful in its current state, but could be successful given an extended deadline.
It’ll be up to your team to uncover these nuances and communicate them to the client. It might take a few rounds of back and forth before landing on a project that’s set up for success.
How to create a project onboarding checklist
After you’ve pinned down the feasibility of your project, it’s time to create a plan. Your project checklist is a high-level overview of the project. It’s less detailed than an official project plan and is used primarily to keep your client and your internal team on the same page.
What makes project onboarding checklists popular is that any size team can utilize them. They provide clarity and structure to every project while giving your team a roadmap to work with. A good project onboarding checklist is thorough and consistent no matter what type of project you’re working on.
Here are some things you should include in your project onboarding checklist:
Client name and organization
Type of project
Statement of work (SOW)
KPIs and reporting metrics
Sprint or scrum planning
Invoice process and billable hours
The purpose of your project onboarding checklist is to answer all project questions in a single place. Nobody should be wondering who is working on what or what the expectations are. Your checklist acts as the North Star for everything involving your project.
Build your project team
You shouldn’t build your project team until you’ve finalized the project checklist. It’s important to understand what work needs to be done before deciding who’ll do it. Avoid forming a project team until you understand what a project will entail.
Your project team will depend on the type of work you’re doing, but for the most part your project team will include some combination of the following roles:
Don't underestimate the importance of this step. Talk with people you've tapped for the project and make sure you're not forgetting anyone. It will be difficult to add people to the project once it's started. Get everyone you need at the very beginning.
Introduce the team
Once you’ve gathered your project team you can introduce everyone. Don’t underestimate the importance of meeting as a group before starting your project. Schedule a project kick-off meeting to discuss project details at length. You should also send out a project team introduction email with everyone CC’d on it.
The biggest mistake you can make is assuming everyone is already familiar with each other. Taking a few extra steps to introduce your team and build rapport will pay off. Introduce team members by title and explain their role in successfully completing the project.
Keep the meetings going
After you've introduced your team you'll need to establish your meeting frequency. While it would be nice to meet once and then part ways to complete your work, communication is key for project success.
Some teams like to meet once a week while others prefer a daily meeting to discuss the project. Get a pulse on how often your team likes to meet before making decisions.
And always keep in mind the workload of your teammates. You might want to meet daily but that might not work for other employees. Find a happy medium that doesn't interrupt everyones day-to-day work.
Create a project plan
The final step in your project onboarding process is completing the project plan. Your project plan expands on what you built in the project outline by creating actionable steps for each part of the process.
This is also the time you should add context to the project as it relates to your teammates. Explain what the project is and how each of them play a role in its completion. You should use your project team introduction meeting to hand out any relevant documents, software logins, project notes, or URLs to your teammates.
Project management software can make organizing everyone on your team much easier. These tools can help you create a project plan and distribute the required content to your team. Using project management software also gives you the advantage of being able to easily assign team members to different tasks as you build them out.
What to include in a project plan
Your project plan should be a more detailed drill-down of your project onboarding checklist. Here are some ideas for what you might include in your project plan:
Statement of Work (SOW)
Weekly status reports
Project and task ownership
Once you have the project plan fully built out, you can get to work completing your project. By front loading the process with project onboarding, you’ve moved the obstacles out of your team's way.
Now that most of their questions have been answered you can focus on diving right into the project at hand. Planning ahead always pays off in the long run.
Get on board with project onboarding
Like any new process, your project onboarding strategy will take time to get used to. But once your team has adjusted to their new workflows you’ll find they work better, faster, and smarter than ever before.
You've onboarded your project, what happens next? Learn more about how to take your project from start to finish with a closer look at the project lifecycle.
Lauren is a Content Marketing Manager at G2. You can find her work featured on CNBC, Yahoo Finance, and on the G2 Learning Hub. In her free time, Lauren enjoys watching true crime shows and spending time in the Chicago karaoke scene. (she/her/hers)