Project Practitioners > How To Ensure That Your Projects Take Off Smoothly, Predictably and Effectively - the Power of the "Pre-Flight" Checklist

How To Ensure That Your Projects Take Off Smoothly, Predictably and Effectively - the Power of the "Pre-Flight" Checklist

By ProjectConnections Staff

Those of us who've flown commercially have invariably observed the flight crew busily at work, audibly and meticulously going through a formal checklist process, as we complete the boarding process.  This process is performed by the pilot and co-pilot each and every time prior to take-off and covers a multitude of functional checks as well as a visual inspection of the aircraft, all with the singular objective of ensuring and confirming that both they and the aircraft are ready for safe flight. This process is always performed, without fail, for one simple reason - lives are at stake.

While most of us thankfully do not have to shoulder such life-and-death responsibility in our daily work, we are tasked with custodial oversight of significant budget monies, staff and other corporate resources as we lead, manage and execute our assigned projects. We may not be licensed pilots, but how we prepare ourselves and our teams for this responsibility is a critical factor in our ultimate success or failure.

Early in my career, I had the priviledge of serving as an instructor and mentor in the BankBoston Project Management Development Program. The objective of this program was to train new project managers on how to successfully manage projects within the BankBoston environment by giving them the best tools, techniques and procedural framework possible. In preparation for my portion of the program, I developed what I referred to as the T+30 Checklist. The purpose of this checklist was to provide new project managers with a consistent checklist of critical items to focus on and complete within the first 30 days after being assigned any new project, their own "pre-flight" checklist of sorts.

I'd like to share an updated version of that checklist with you below and I encourage you to use it, add to it or otherwise adapt it and share it with your teams, PMO and key stakeholders.  Please consider it a guide rather than a fixed prescription - I continue to adapt and enhance and optimize my own to this day both overall and when specific projects suggest a need for a different approach. The key is to determine what works most effectively within your own environment on different kinds of projects and what will provide you with the highest levels of consistency, predictability and effectiveness.   

T+30 Checklist:

1.  Request and review any and all existing documentation on the project (if any) as well as any available lessons learned documentation on prior similar projects to acquire context and to help in determining what you don't know and need to know.

2.  Schedule initial briefing with executive sponsor to determine why the project is being undertaken, what the specific objectives are, what is known and unknown, what's been started or not started, what scope, schedule, budget targets/constraints exist, what key assumptions have already been identified, who the key players are, etc.  An excellent script for this conversation may be found at  This conversation should also cover proposed next steps in order to set expectations and provide a baseline against which to measure initial progress (reviewing this checklist can be an extremely effective tool for accomplishing just that).

3.  Conduct initial briefings with other key stakeholders recommended by sponsor - most of the same areas covered during your sponsor meeting will be pertinent and will help you to determine whether everyone's on the same page (is there a common vision for the project?) or if there are any disconnects in which case you've just uncovered your first issue(s).

4.  Based on all of the above, complete your own situation analysis for the project including an assessment of key environmental factors, how the project is viewed (improvement, opportunity or problem to be solved) and what the political climate is (i.e., the people dynamics).

5.  Using the information gleaned thus far, rough out what your core team will need to look like and start acquiring those resources ASAP.

6.  Conduct initial briefings with your core team members individually and then start team meetings ASAP to lay the foundation for kick-off planning.

7.  Begin development and definition of the project charter and project management plan (i.e., “how” the project will be managed) WITH your core team. This should absolutely be a collaborative effort. If these artifacts have already been started, review what's already been done to make sure you understand and can support them but even then, make them your own or you'll just be completing someone else's project.

8.  Identify any critical issues or “at risk” areas based on initial briefings, interviews and personal observations that need to start being worked now and enlist the support and assistance of your core team in doing so.

9.  Set up an issues tracking database, load it with the initial set of defined issues and start working those.

10. Create value right away by progressively implementing additional structural building blocks, e.g., project documentation management, basic change control and setting yourself up as the go-to person/lightening rod for the multiple/varied requests your team will inevitably be hit with so they can focus on what they need to do.

11.  Plan and conduct project kick-off meeting with sponsor, core team and key stakeholder participation to formally launch the project.

12.  Begin detailed planning activities, initiate formal status reporting if not already in progress and, establish periodic checkpoint reporting with sponsor to review progress against plan, report on critical risks and issues and to confirm priorities as the project progresses.

Related Items: - The power of the humble checklist. - The most successful companies share just three characteristics: 1) Fanatic discipline, 2) Calibrated creativity, and 3) Productive paranoia. - Consistency and predictable results through the use of repeatable protocols, processes and checklists.

Related Templates: - An example agenda for holding a kickoff meeting for a new project and detailed guidelines for preparing for and running this intense team session. Sure, you might prefer to "just get to work." But if a team member gets off track, or a cross-functional team member wasn't even aware of what was needed, the entire project can end up in the weeds. - Drafting a risk list can be a daunting proposition. This risk checklist prompts your team to consider common risks across a wide variety of categories, to reduce the odds of missing one of those dreaded "unknown-unknowns."



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