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Put down the code. From code monkey to zoo keeper -- becoming a project manager and all the things we were never taught

I wrote this two years ago and thought it was worth posting…

Some may think this is a daunting task and some may even say “what a waste of time” and want to open MS Project and start typing out tasks because someone asked for an estimate and a task list. Hell, maybe you even use Excel and pump out a spreadsheet with some real scientific formula for guessing how long it will take to code a bunch of classes. However, this short exercise will provide the basis for the entire project, whether small or large and be a great friend when communicating to anyone on your team or even your client. I call this the Project Brief. If you find yourself going beyond a single page, then you must decompose the sections and summarize your findings so there is a complete and clear picture of the project you are working on in a relatively short statement. Here is a great quote from the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) relative to what a project is;


A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.

With this in mind, the project brief should encompass the entirety (objective) of the endeavor in its explanation and what it will take (goals) to create the product, service or result (deliverables).

Normally the process of identifying the project objective is done during the first stage of a project called the Project Kickoff, but you can perform this very important step anytime to help you get a bearing. There are many more parts to helping a project stay on course, but this is usually the foundation where it can be grounded on.

Through a series of 3 exercises, you should be able to come up with the objective, goals and deliverables on your project. Follow these steps, and in no time (about ½ hour), you will have the foundation of your project plan. (See examples below)

Exercise 1 – Objectives
Begin with the end in mind. Think about your project in business terms with a couple things to help you understand the objective;

  • Reference the business benefit in terms of cost, speed and / or quality,
  • Provide a higher level of what the outcome will look like (future sense)
  • It should be non-measurable, that’s what the goals are all about

The output should be a single paragraph with three sentences and take 10 minutes to write.

*Typically, agreement must be reached on the objectives of the project before you would proceed to the next steps of the project.

Exercise 2 – Goals

A project goal is a statement that answers questions about who, what, why, where and when. A good project goal statement;

  1. Answers the five “W” questions for the project
  2. Is measurable in each of its parts
  3. Is published and agreed on by all the owners

This helps the Project Manager receive confirmation on defining the project target.

Using the established project objective done in the first exercise, think about the things it will take to get the job done. Think about tangible activities which are the top level tasks in a typical Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). The overall goal statement plus all the deliverables (next exercise) can be seen as the project team’s contract with the project owners.

Write 3 - 5 goals in about 10 minutes. You should not write the words “Who, what, why, where and when, but merely be able to answer the questions when you read a goal.

Exercise 3 – Deliverables

Every project creates some type of output and these outputs are called deliverables. There are two classes of deliverables;

  • Internal – produced for project team members to meet their goals
  • External – produced for project owners to meet their expectations

The list you enter here provides a checklist for the team’s delivery and/or is a statement of all the expectations of the project owners. Here are some typical project deliverables;

Product and product documentation

End product/system

Requirements/feature documents

Installation guides


System design documents

User guides/help files


Project plan

Training plan

Conversion/installation/delivery plan

Test plans

Documentation plan

Communication plan

Reports and general documentation

Progress reports

System acceptance tests

Outstanding bug list


Risk and issue logs

Project history

Deliverables should go with each of the goals. Have 3-5 deliverables for each goal. When you are done, you will have established a great foundation for the clarity of your project. This exercise can take some time, but with practice, you should be able to whip this one out in 10 minutes as well, especially if you are intimate with an ongoing project.



[Client] is implementing a series of MOSS sites to support external public (Internet), internal employee (Intranet) and an external secure (password protected Internet) applications. This project will focus on the public-facing web site and will provide [Client] with architectural recommendations based on the current design being done by their design partner [Partner] and the internal Content Team. In addition, it will provide [Client] with a development plan and confidence they need to deploy a world class public Internet website.


1.  [Consultant] will provide technical guidance and set project team expectations for the implementation of the MOSS Internet site based on provided features/functions within three weeks.

2.  [Consultant] will understand phase 2 secure password-protected Internet site design and provide recommendations.


1.1  Public Internet (unsecure) Architectural Recommendation Plan

1.2  Physical Site construction Work Breakdown Structure and plan (Time, cost and resources needed)

2.1  Two Factor authentication recommendation document


[Client] is currently using an application developed by [Consultant] many years ago called "XXX". This application, although functional, does not meet their new updated business requirements and contains a few defects which [Client] has developed work-around processes. [Client] would like to have a "new and improved" system to support their membership management needs by expanding membership and subscription capabilities, provide accounting integration with internal (GL) and external (VeriSign) systems, and implement hooks to the current CRM solution. This effort will take place through a series of phases, beginning with envisioning.


1. Through discussions with users, [Consultant] will discover current issues/bugs which need to be resolved which must meet the current functionality requirements within three weeks.

2. [Consultant] will gather requirements from the users about what is "needed" vs. "what they have" for enhancements and provide a high level document supporting their needs.

3. [Consultant] will meet with the team members through a series of meetings and help define the overall project plan to deliver a new and improved solution.


1.1 Prioritized list of Current application issues/bugs that need to be resolved

1.2 Provide a resolution plan on the issues/bugs identified in the current application

1.3 Risk Assessment Document

2.1 Deliver a Requirements Document showing high-level [Client] needs for the new XXX application.

· New feature functionality not in the application today

· Existing functionality that will remain in the new functionality

2.2 Reporting Requirements Document

3.1 A Project Plan showing the deliverables and cost for the next (second) phase of this project.

3.2 A Statement of Work for the next (second) phase of this project.

3.3 An Estimate of any work that would need to follow the second phase.

Posted on Friday, April 9, 2010 4:55 AM | Back to top

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