The January kick-off: reviving your projects for the year

There’s never been a better time than January to revive those projects you never managed to get off the ground last year.  You’ve come back refreshed and full of new enthusiasm, so don’t let it go to waste!  But where do you start?

The start of a project is a crucial time for its success, and that’s my favourite time to get involved. It’s wonderful being in a room full of curious, talented people not quite knowing what’s going to happen, and helping them organise their thoughts into something fruitful. Whether it’s with your existing team and colleagues or you’re pulling a new team together, there’s something magical about these new beginnings, creating new ideas or putting fresh life into old ones.

Here are some things I recommend for getting started:

  1. Kicking things off

When you’ve got the chance to get everyone in the room together, make the most of it. Allocate a good amount of time for brainstorming – one hour is usually not enough. And despite all the great online tools around, we highly recommend getting together in person (with good old Post-it notes, Sharpies and large amounts of paper or flip-charts, and snacks) rather than virtually – unless you’re a complete master of facilitating online sessions. And hardly anyone is!

The aim of the session should be about getting everyone’s ideas/questions/thoughts out of their heads and onto paper, and then making some initial sense of it all.  The start of a project often feels messy, uncertain and chaotic (this is normal, and don’t let it put you off! It will come together eventually), and that’s partly because the ideas are still in everyone’s brains and they haven’t been broken down into sizeable, actionable tasks.

Try this as an exercise:

  1. Start with an open brainstorm about the big picture of the project, and pen one idea per post-it note.
  2. You’ll start to see some themes emerge. Group your post-it notes together into these themes
  3. Within the those themes, identify what are actual tasks and what are still ideas
  4. With the tasks, start to sort them into a logical order – what can you start with?
  5. With the ideas, break them down further into tasks and then repeat step 4

This will be a little rough around the edges as a project plan, but it’s something to get you started.

  1. Keep it moving with a  co-working meeting

Unless a new project has a hard deadline, it will always fall to the bottom of the pile of work for busy people. Not useful when you’re trying to get something started! I’ve found that co-working meetings, where all the team allocate a time, not just to talk about the project, but to actually DO stuff – either together or independently – work wonders. Think of it as a Jelly session for your team.  The time can be used for tasks like research, sketching out ideas and writing proposals, but the main thing is everyone makes an equal commitment – time and attention-wise. This creates a focus and helps move the project forward, particularly at the beginning when you’re all trying to get things going.

  1. Make something (small) happen

Decide on something small-scale that you could deliver, and then do it.  Turning a concept into something tangible relatively quickly can really mobilise a team and often helps to define what the project will become.  Depending on your project, this could be something low-risk like a prototype for user testing, an evening meet-up event or even co-writing a blog post to put your idea out there and start getting feedback. For new collaborators, it’s also a useful test to see how well you work together, and gives you that deadline to make it a priority on people’s to-do lists.

And with your new project, once it’s up and running, schedule regular check-ins, whether that’s via skype, e-mail or in person to keep the early year enthusiasm and momentum going.

Image: Joe Lanman on Flickr

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