How To Start A Project Plan: Ultimate Guide To Project Management

how to start a project

Even in the best of circumstances, starting a project can be challenging, and it can be challenging to even know where to begin!

The most important part of a project is the planning stage.

I’ll explain how to begin your project in this article.

Choose The Right Project Management Methodology

Finding the best methodology for the job can be difficult with so many options available. Consider the needs of both your project and team, and remember these two tips:

1. Start with the end in mind

To determine what your final result needs to look like and the benefits it needs to offer, look at your requirements, goals, and objectives. A more sequential process, such as a Waterfall or critical path, is needed for physical objects, such as buildings and household items. The agile methodology’s adaptability, on the other hand, will work well in the more erratic world of software development.

2. Assess what’s already working

Consider your previous endeavors. Which procedures have your team already found to be effective? Choose a methodology like Scrum, Kanban, XP, or APF if your team members enjoy working together and incorporating new ideas as you go. Teams that prefer a more structured approach will benefit from project management techniques like a waterfall, critical path, or critical chain.

Understand The Project Life Cycle

how to start a project

Any project you plan will essentially go through the same stages. Even though each project has its own set of particular procedures and duties, they all have a similar structure. Every event has a start, middle, and end. Welcome to the project life cycle.

The project life cycle gives the project manager a way to approach tasks in different phases and helps to provide some predictability. In this section, we’ll explain what you need to know about each phase:

  • The initiation phase
  • The planning phase
  • The execution phase
  • The controlling and monitoring phase
  • The closing phase

The Initiation Phase

The first stage of the entire project management life cycle is the initiation phase. Defining the project, creating a business case for it, and obtaining approval are the objectives of this stage. During this time, the project manager may do any of the following:

  • Perform a feasibility study
  • Create a project charter
  • Identify key stakeholders
  • Select project management tools

The project manager ought to have a thorough understanding of the project’s objectives, needs, and risks by the time this phase is over.

The Planning Phase

To create a project roadmap that the entire team can follow, the planning phase is essential. In this section, you’ll lay out the specifics and specify your objectives in order to satisfy the organization’s requirements.

During this phase, project managers will typically:

  • Create a project plan
  • Develop a resource plan
  • Define goals and performance measures
  • Communicate roles and responsibilities to team members
  • Build out workflows
  • Anticipate risks and create contingency plans

The project kickoff meeting, where the project manager presents the goals to all involved stakeholders, usually marks the start of the following phase, execution. Before that meeting happens, the project manager must do the following:

  • Establish the vision and deliverables: Establish a shared objective for all. Determine what needs to be done and by when.
  • Identify your team and set roles: Make a list of who does what and include contact information for easy communication.
  • Develop the initial project plan: Plan ahead, but settle on the specifics with your team at the start.
  • Define the metrics for success: How is the project going to be evaluated? What will ensure its success? Early expectations setting
  • Identify potential risks and bottlenecks: Prepare the team for potential obstacles and put procedures in place to deal with them quickly.
  • Establish logistics for team communication: How will you keep one another updated? Establish a standardized procedure (daily or weekly meetings) and choose the appropriate technology.
  • Choose the work process or project management methodology: The best practices your team will adhere to should be established.
  • Decide which tools you’ll use: Make sure everyone is equipped with the right tools and understands how to use them.
  • Schedule the kickoff meeting: Whether in person or virtually, the entire team and stakeholders must be present.
  • Set the agenda and prepare the slides for the meeting: Send the agenda in advance so that everyone can plan accordingly, and include the slides for use as a reference after the meeting.

The Execution Phase

The bulk of a project takes place during the execution phase, which demands the most resources in terms of time, money, and personnel. You’ll create deliverables in this area to make sure you’re fulfilling requirements.

As was already mentioned, a kickoff meeting signifies the beginning of the execution phase. A kickoff meeting agenda might look something like this:

  • Introductions: Who’s who?
  • Project background: The purpose of your project is What are the goals?
  • Project scope: What exactly will you be doing? What sort of labor is required?
  • Project plan: How will we accomplish this? What does the road map look like?
  • Roles: Which project components will each have a designated owner?
  • Communication: What kind of channels will you employ for communication? What types of meetings or status updates ought your team anticipate?
  • Tools: How and with what tools will you finish the project?
  • Next steps: What are the tasks that you must finish right away?
  • Q&A: Open the floor for any questions

The Controlling And Monitoring Phase

This stage occurs concurrently with the execution phase. The project manager must continuously ensure that all moving parts are moving in the right direction as the project develops. The plan might need to be modified in response to unforeseen events or a change in course.

During the controlling and monitoring phase, project managers may have to do any of the following:

  • Manage resources
  • Monitor project performance
  • Risk management
  • Perform status meetings and reports
  • Update project schedule
  • Modify project plans

All agreed-upon project deliverables must be completed and approved by the client by the time the execution phase is over.

What Should You Do When A Project Is First Initiated?

One of two documents—or sometimes both—result from the project initiation phase.): the Project Initiation Document (PID) and the Statement of Work (SoW). Utilizing the three categories of people, processes, and products will help you concentrate on your project initiation and really drill down on the information you need to include in one of these two documents. For any project, these are crucial.


how to start a project

People, let’s start with the most crucial matter! You’re not going to produce anything without them, then, are you?!

1. Team

Planning Your Team Shape

You must define and assemble your team during the project initiation phase. Review your project and its deliverables first, then determine the team composition you require. Check the availability and reserve your resource in advance. Instead of just considering availability when deciding who to hire for a project, you should also consider the skillsets required to complete it successfully. Consider the client or stakeholders here as well. How will your team members interact with them? Run through the following checklist when forming your team:

  • Skills (what will they need to do)
  • Experience (what will they need to have worked on before)
  • Stakeholders (how will they need to communicate)
  • Availability (will they have the time to dedicate)
  • Budget (can you afford them)

Do not attempt this alone, please. If you have the opportunity, speak with the different discipline leads to avoid assuming things. In the beginning, it’s a good idea to have a brief meeting with the leads to go over the project and deliverables and get their assistance in outlining the resource requirements. You should have a team shape for your project after working through the aforementioned steps, but keep in mind that you should leave some wiggle room before the actual project kick-off in case you need to look outside your organization for the right skill set for freelancers or contractors.

Getting The Team Involved: Kicking Off The Right Way

Any client kick-off should be followed by an internal kick-off meeting. By doing this, you can encourage early participation and buy-in from them. Always keep in mind that keeping people informed and involved is best when establishing requirements, team composition, and objectives. Although you don’t want to add a lot of overhead (and it can be difficult to engage people when they are busy!), the best way to kick off a project in the right way is to set and manage expectations early. By involving your team early on, they will feel more involved in the decision-making process and consequently have a much better impression of the project as a whole.

So organize a kickoff meeting internally. Set up a meeting, with a good agenda (always make sure a meeting is useful and for the right people), and go over the history of the project, any objectives and goals, and any requirements that have already been established. Leaving time for a more workshop-like forum to collect team thoughts at the end of the meeting is something I’ve found useful. Some good areas to discuss and raise early are:

  • The team’s desired method of operation
  • When, how, and how should the team solicit input from clients or stakeholders?
  • The team wants to communicate with client or stakeholder feedback in what way?
  • What internal regular meetings should the team hold? When should these be?
  • Should catch-ups be unplanned and impromptu or more formal and scheduled?

As I said, involving the team in decision-making early on is likely to make them feel much more invested in the project as a whole. By holding this meeting before the SoW is finished, the team’s suggested methods of operation can be incorporated into the document, making it much more applicable to how the project will be carried out in practice.

2. Stakeholders

Defining Who Is Involved And When

Create an outline and definition of stakeholder involvement as part of the project initiation. It’s crucial to understand who is performing tasks, approving deliverables, or reviewing and providing feedback, whether these stakeholders are internal or external clients. A great way to do this is by developing a RACI. I’ve written an article that delves into the world of RACIs and teaches you how to build a useful, usable RACI. Take a look here and download a free RACI matrix as an added bonus!

Setting Project Communications

Determining the timing and method of communication with stakeholders as part of the SoW or PID is helpful. Once your RACI has been created, consider what you believe is required for meetings and updates with your key stakeholders. Starting with how frequently you formally update them is a good starting point if there is a clear project lead on the client side. After that, expand this to include other team members and the proper timing for their participation. List the project updates you believe are required, then indicate who, when, and what.

Stakeholder Kick-off Meeting

The first thing to do is to confirm that your internal kick-off meeting has already taken place. Avoid forcing team members into a meeting about a project they are unfamiliar with. Additionally, it’s a good idea to have made an introduction to the client or other key participants before the meeting, ideally over the phone or in person. The meeting shouldn’t be open to the entire world, so make sure you have a clear agenda. Never forget to keep a meeting on topic and brief.

Things to run through in the meeting:

  • Introductions
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Deliverables
  • Assumptions
  • Risks
  • Dependencies
  • Timings
  • Costs
  • Team shape

3. And don’t forget about you!

Keep in mind that you are in all of this! Although it’s simple to prioritize clients, stakeholders, and your team over yourself, it’s crucial to make sure your expectations for this project are realistic. Think about the outcomes you want from your project and your goals, then try to plan how you can accomplish them along the way.


Ah, process, one of the topics most DPMs enjoy discussing! In order for you, your team, and the client to follow certain guidelines, it is crucial to establish the project’s process from the beginning. Be careful not to get too caught up in procedures, paperwork, or regulations. A team’s enthusiasm can sometimes be quickly killed by the process! When starting a project, there are a few key components to outline.

1. Methodology

Which project management methodology should I use? is a perennial obsession. If your client’s business practices or the organizational structure of your team or agency are any indications, this may be obvious already. But in a perfect world, you would examine the project, the deliverables, and the team before identifying a procedure that will work. Always consider what is best for the project rather than attempting to force it to fit a certain methodology. It’s common for methodologies to be blended together; don’t be concerned by this. Think about the following things when considering the methodology:

  • What size project do you have?
  • The scope, timelines, and budget are how rigidly fixed?
  • On what team are you working?
  • Do you have a team that works on this project full-time, or are they split between several projects?
  • How does the client operate at the moment?
  • Will the client project lead be fully committed?

You ought to be able to determine the nature of the project and, consequently, how it ought to be managed, using the answers to the aforementioned questions. For instance, a project will be more Waterfall in nature if its scope, schedule, and budget are all predetermined. However, an Agile project may be more appropriate if it involves a full-time team and a client project lead who is fully committed.

2. Tools

What appropriate project management tools should be used for the project? is yet another obsession of PMs. Again, your project, team, client, and budget all play a big role in this. As I’ve said throughout, avoid overly complex processes. The same goes for tools; avoid adding too many pointless ones to the mix and think about how well they integrate. Some areas to consider when selecting what tools you need are:

  • Planning for and managing resources, such as Float or Resource Guru
  • Time management and planning for projects, such as Microsoft Project or Gantt Pro
  • Stakeholder collaboration, including Google Sheets or Confluence
  • Communication with your team and other stakeholders, such as Slack or Workspace
  • internal task project management, e.g. Jira or Trello

I personally prefer to keep things straightforward, and I frequently use Google Sheets for a variety of purposes. Whatever tools you choose, make sure your internal team and stakeholders are on board and are familiar with how to use them. Keep things simple; if you find that they aren’t working, you can always adjust the tools at a later time in the project.

3. Risks

One of the best things you can do when starting a project is to plan ahead. It is crucial to identify potential risks upfront so that they can be mitigated. Create a RAID log to highlight Risks, Assumptions, Issues, and Dependencies, as well as how you plan to mitigate each. Make sure you involve your team and consider holding a post-mortem session with your team where you brainstorm areas of risk, as they are often likely to come up with things you haven’t even thought of.


The finished product—what you are producing—is last. There are some crucial issues that must be resolved during the Project Initiation phase.

1. Requirements

What are the first requirements for your project? Outlining what you already know is a good idea before properly starting the project and gathering requirements during the planning stage. What are the requirements of your target market in terms of business, clients, and users? This aids in giving you a thorough understanding of the project’s history and setting.

2. Scope And Deliverables

You have a general understanding of the deliverables at this point in the project. In order to be able to accept these in the SoW or PID, it is time to begin developing these and setting boundaries around them.

3. Setting Deliverables

Organize a team meeting to go over the deliverables with your team using the information you have. Meet with the discipline leads if you need to move forward with setting the deliverables even though your team isn’t yet in place. Don’t make these decisions on your own; make sure others contribute to them. When you review with your team, make sure you have these areas in mind to review per deliverable:

  • What is it?
  • What kind of format will it be?
  • Will there need to be additional rounds of amends?
  • Who will be involved?
  • When should this be delivered?
  • Does it rely on any other deliverables in any way?

4. Budgets And Timings

You now have a rough project scope based on your list of deliverables, and you must match timings and roles to this. Working together with your discipline leads to estimating timings and adjusting team structure accordingly. Depending on the procedure, you may be estimating in sprints or in phases with sign-offs. To set the proper boundaries, be sure to collaborate with the team on these. Once more, make sure the process fits the project and don’t try to impose it on it. Decide on the team composition, and then weigh the costs against it. For the PID or SoW at this point, an overview of time phases is more important than a detailed breakdown of timings.

5. Measures Of Success

In the absence of success, what is your project or product? Success, however, has no clear definition. Remember that your project requires some form of measurement so that you can examine it, understand where things worked or didn’t work, and gauge how well you completed it. Make some measurement standards that you’ll look at at the end (or at particular points in the project). Consider areas such as:

  • Core KPIs e.g. increasing visitors to a site
  • and customer satisfaction, i.e. how happy were the client with how the project went?
  • team contentment, i.e. how happy was the team with how the project went?
  • Timings variance
  • Budget variance
how to start a project

5 Core Challenges When Initiating Projects

In the project initiation stage, there are a lot of obstacles you might run into. I’ve listed the top five problems I frequently encounter during project initiation, along with solutions, in the paragraphs below.

1. The Project Initiation Stage Is Going Too Slowly

Usually, everyone takes a little bit longer to complete their tasks at the beginning of a project because they know they have plenty of time to finish it. Project launches occasionally become unnecessarily drawn out. I’ve observed this frequently, and when you have trouble meeting your deadlines, it can seriously impact the project. Here are some tips to ensure you move at the right pace:

  • Have calls or meetings to go over and agree on things; this can often help move things along more quickly than having a lot of emails back and forth.
  • Make sure the team and client are aware of the project initiation stage’s deliverables and any dependencies placed on them. If they are preventing anything from happening, mention it right away.
  • Fix general start and end times for this stage. Pre-kick off it’s often easy to meander along, so make sure there’s a clear goal to work towards
  • Consider the momentum of the client and team. How can you inspire people, show them that things are moving in the right direction, and engage them? Find concrete things you and the team can do to help the project feel more real, as the project initiation phase is less about doing and more about setting the stage.

2. Picking Up A Project Mid-Way Through

The majority of project management advice I’ve read frequently makes the assumption that you can start at the very beginning of a project and take the lead from the beginning. But what if you join the project in the middle of it or at the start of a specific phase? Due to your lack of participation in the Initiation stage, it can be very difficult. Try these tips:

  • Make sure you understand everything that has happened so far. Ask the person who is handing something over to you for a list of links, a description of the deliverables and their status, and any links to crucial documents.
  • Set up project kick-offs with your team first, followed by the stakeholders, just as you would during Project Initiation at the “real” beginning of the project. Although you don’t want to have to repeat anything to your team or client, they will understand that you need to get up to speed and that it’s a good way to restart the team and move the project forward with a new project lead. It’s also a good idea to conduct a project review halfway through. you can go through existing risks or the current burn rate on the budget, to make sure everyone is still aligned.

3. Having One Project Initiation For A Project Spanning Multiple Phases

One of the main issues with a big, protracted project is that it starts with just one Initiation and never resets as it moves through its various phases. During the course of your project’s life, decisions made for one phase may not necessarily apply to other phases. So try the following:

  • Treat each phase of your project as a mini-project rather than creating a larger upfront piece if it has distinct phases, such as a discovery phase that is separate from the development phase. Instead of attempting to make many assumptions at the outset, this provides key starting points for each phase.
  • Make sure to conduct mini kick-offs at each stage and to check off each item on the Project Initiation Checklist relevant to that phase.

4. There’s A Lack Of Clarity Around The Project

When the Project Initiation phase first begins, things can occasionally feel a little hazy and team members may be unclear about what the project entails. Make sure you look at the following to create alignment within your team:

  • A clear list of the client’s requirements should be provided to you. Ensure that this takes into account the business, user, and technical requirements.
  • If you are working with a team, go over these requirements with them. Make sure discipline leads are involved if not. Make sure everyone is on board right away.
  • Once you’ve held internal and client kick-offs, maintain the momentum within the team by ensuring that everyone is aware of and committed to what they are delivering. Always include the team when creating the brief, defining the deliverables, and planning the project strategy.

5. There’s A Delay In Getting Your Project Started

Have you ever been eager to get started on a project, gathered all the necessary materials, laid out the plan, and identified the following steps, only for something to arise that causes you to be forced to put the project on hold? Your proposed project team loses steam, and they split up. How do you avoid these delays at the start of the play?

  • If there is disagreement over the project budget, be sure to properly discuss all budget choices with the client. What will they receive in return for their money? Be as specific as you can.
  • In the event that they are unable to pay your suggested budget, examine the scope to see if anything can be cut. Talk to them honestly and openly so you can try to come to a compromise.
  • In order to move things along quickly, try to get a small budget approved for a discovery phase.
  • Make sure you discuss this with the client right away if they aren’t participating or are missing deadlines early on. Assist them in comprehending the effects this will have on the project.
  • Raise this internally if there are any internal difficulties setting up the team or starting the work. Again, make sure your internal team and management are aware of the effects of the project’s delay.

Top Ten Tips To Remember When Initiating A Project

  1. Set the tone that you want for your project early on.
  2. Get your team’s buy-in and involvement early.
  3. This goes for the client too—get them involved early and often.
  4. Make sure clear communications are set up with any clients or stakeholders.
  5. Ensure there’s an agreed process for your project to follow – but don’t become bogged down in documentation!
  6. But if a particular procedure doesn’t work for your project, don’t try to fit it.
  7. Try to meet your client face-to-face at least once before kicking off the project (if this is impossible, do a video call!)
  8. For any kick-off meeting, set a clear agenda and make people feel involved.
  9. Try and future-proof your project by thinking through risks and dependencies with your team.
  10. Always think ahead—don’t just focus on the start of the project!


Spend some time getting familiar with the subject of your project before getting going! Make a sufficient project plan, calculation, etc. Don’t pressure yourself to have everything perfect. This is not necessary; instead, schedule the initial meetings and launch the initial tasks. Then, if necessary, update your plans.