Starting a New Project

With a new blog, you have to have a first post. Years from now, you’ll forget what that first post was, but people will dive all the way back to the beginning of your archive to see where you began. With that in mind, I’ve decided to write about my process for starting this new project of Meta-Manage.

Find a Mission

Before I even begin plotting my course, I need something to fill my sails. I need to have a mission in mind for my endeavor. Along the way, there are four things I need to define: vision, mission, strategy, and goals.

These are hierarchical, in a sense, and you can picture them aligned vertically. Moving down the scale, from vision, to mission, and so on, ask yourself, “How?” Once I know my vision, how do I achieve it? I achieve it with this mission, and in regards to how I achieve that mission, I’ll reach it through the strategy I have developed. Moving back up the scale, ask yourself, “Why?” For the goals I have set, why do I have them? Those goals help achieve the strategy, and the reason I pursue that strategy is to achieve the mission. By working down and up through these subjects, we can establish at a high level both how we will achieve what we want to achieve, and why we are committing ourselves to each step.

For Meta-Manage, I have the following preliminary thoughts:

Vision

Andy Stanley writes in his book Visioneering that, “Vision is a clear mental picture of what could be, fueled by the conviction that it should be.”

“Vision is a clear mental picture of what could be, fueled by the conviction that it should be.”

So my vision for Meta-Manage is, “Small business owners and managers at all levels should have a high-quality reference that is comprehensive, task-oriented rather than function-oriented, and general enough to not require education in project management or business for it to be understood.”

Mission

In comparison to a vision statement, a mission statement asks, “Why does this company/product/service exist?” It should be short, concise, and easy to memorize, and it ought to inspire you, and many others, to invest their time and talents towards its achievement. A mission is a tool that you and your team will use to make decisions.

A mission is a tool used to help your team make decisions.

With this in mind, my mission for Meta-Manage is to provide everything you need to manage. That’s broad and ambitious, but that’s not necessarily bad for a mission. If the mission is inspiring, it can drive you to achieve more than you might otherwise.

Strategy

When developing a strategy for obtaining your mission, you should take both your strengths and your weaknesses into account. What can you bring to the table to get things done? Where do you struggle or lack skills? In my case, I have no artistic skills or capabilities. Not only am I not a graphic design artist, but I have trouble even thinking imaginatively to come up with a good design. I similarly don’t enjoy audio or video recording/editing, so podcasting and video blogging aren’t in my wheelhouse.

On the flip side of that, I enjoy writing and do it reasonably well. I read quickly and enjoy doing research. This means that my strategy ought to include reading, writing, and pulling together technical documentation that covers topics comprehensively and concisely in a way that people can understand easily.

My strategy includes writing task-oriented articles rather than function-oriented. Instead of covering how to use a particular function within a piece of software, I write about how to achieve a task and go step-by-step through both the software and thought processes. I’ll also interview local business owners and managers about what works for them, review books to let people know if they’re worth investing the time to read, and write about a variety of other topics. My language needs to be relatively free from jargon so it is approachable by people at all levels of experience and education when it comes to management.

Goals

Here at the beginning, I’ve developed a few concrete goals for Meta-Manage. You can also think of these as tasks, but at a higher-level than a checklist.

I want to write high quality articles, not just try to churn out material to meet a schedule. That said, I’d like to publish at least one blog article per week. The content of these will be how-to articles, or will cover subjects from communication to budgeting to tools and many others.

I want to publish a regular newsletter, be it monthly or quarterly, that includes an interview with a local business owner or manager, a tool and/or book review, and a pro tip you won’t find elsewhere.

I want to have a suggestion board open to the public where people can post things they’d like me to research and write, and also track my progress as I work.

I want to publish as much as I can for free under a Creative Commons license, but I’d also love to put a book together in a year or two.

Scope Definition

Now that we have established our vision, mission, strategy, and goals, we need to create a concrete scope definition. Depending on your project, this may be anything from a paragraph to several pages, and it should cover both what you’re going to do and what you’re not going to do. You need to clearly define the boundaries of your project for your benefit, the benefit of your team, and the benefit of the clients/customers/sponsor.

Define both what you will be doing, and what you won’t do. Identify bright lines that you can draw between what you will and will not do, and be as thorough and conclusive in your scope as you can.

Because this is a blog and it’s early in the process, I’m going to let my scope be a bit more fluid. I will maintain a healthy work-life balance while writing high-quality, educational blog posts about managing work, life, projects, schedules, budgets, and other management-related subjects. I will publish a regular newsletter on a schedule that is to be determined, and I will write regular reviews of the books I am reading. I will not attempt to develop a regular podcast or video blog for this site. I will focus on utilizing my strengths and will not stress about where I am weak.

Project Organization

The project organization is like the organizational chart of a business: it covers the people and their roles. And for my current project, that’s really simple. I’m going to research, write, edit, and publish. Because I’m not trying to tackle anything outside my wheelhouse, I don’t need to outsource any work or hire subcontractors. For projects internal to a business, your project organization may be the same for every project, or it may change slightly as different team members are assigned to different projects. For larger, more complex projects, a well-defined organization will help facilitate communication and oversight.

Business Case

I’ve been thinking about starting a management blog for some time, but I didn’t have any particular focus for it. While I have been a manager for several years, I’m still a newbie when it comes to formal project management in regards to how the Project Management Institute (PMI) does things. In talking with a local business person, though, we quickly identified a need that isn’t being met: management education for people who aren’t project managers, and for people who are just trying to manage their daily affairs.

Identify a need, then meet it.

There are a lot of blogs that are by project managers and for project managers, and there are also a lot of how-to blogs that cover individual functions, like how to use a particular tool in Excel or a feature of Word. But there isn’t much that is written to the regular person who just has a job to do, and even less that covers tasks rather than functions. Those are needs I can meet.

While I plan to publish most things for free, I want to make sure this blog is helpful for people, and that means writing articles that people need and find helpful. Eventually, I would like to develop classes, webinars, e-books, and/or print books, and I want to make myself available for consulting either remotely or in my community.

Constraints

The last thing you need to think about when starting a new project is what your constraints are. I’ve already covered some of mine: I’m not a graphic design artist, I don’t want to record a podcast, and I’m not going to do a video blog.

At this time, I am also constrained by having a job that requires many hours of work, I’m pursuing a master’s degree in project management, and I am very active in my church. That leaves me with few hours for this project, so I need to be well-organized and disciplined if I’m going to deliver on my goals. I have a tremendous amount of reading and podcast-listening I want, and need, to do, so that has to be factored into my schedule. Due to this, I need to remain flexible regarding this site to ensure that quality content is produced–if I try to hold myself to a rigid post schedule, quality may slip, and quality has to be paramount. Therefore, newsletters may be quarterly rather than monthly, and blog posts may be weekly rather than 2-3 times per week.

Conclusion

As you think through each of these areas for your project, write everything down. The process of writing will help you think through the subject more fully, and you’ll find yourself identifying shortcomings or additional things you need to think about.

Find a third party to review your initiation document. They’ll help spot problems or gaps that you overlooked.

As you write, don’t hesitate to edit, ask for advice, or take some time to let it sit for a few days and then return to your planning with fresh eyes. An excellent practice is to have someone else review what you’ve put together. When we read something we have written, we fill in blanks automatically and without realizing it, and an outside observer will pick up on something that doesn’t quite add up that we have overlooked. Take their feedback and clarify your project initiation document to make it even better. The better your planning, the more likely your project will be successful!

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