A precise project order clarification is the basis for a successful project implementation and an important measure to prevent later turbulences in the project. The result, the project order, is the prerequisite for the official start of every project – or at least it should be.
The project order is to be seen as a contract between the project manager and the project client, which both regulates the cooperation and ensures that both have the same goals in mind.
Table of contents
The initial situation
A project arises
How does a project arise in practice: Someone has an idea, a second thinks it’s good and it’s already decided to start a project. A project manager is quickly found. He doesn’t even know what is happening to him when his boss suddenly sticks his head in the door and tells him that he has just been promoted – to head of the “Larifari” project. Because of the sounding name, the project manager knows immediately what to expect and accepts the “promotion”.
Why are we actually doing the project?
Now the project manager must first find out why the project should be carried out at all, what it is planned to achieve and how much time and money the whole project may take. The project manager now has to find out where the project focus lies and what is actually required of him by means of interpretations and sometimes assumptions.
The subject of time pressure
Enormous time pressure is a fixed component of project work. This makes it very tempting to start work on the content of the project immediately. But the path cannot be defined without a goal.
What happens without a project order?
- Project managers and project clients do not agree on the completeness of project results, as these have never been precisely defined.
- After a few months of the project, nobody knows what the actual project goal is.
- Each participant has different interests and is convinced that these will be met. With the completion of the project, great disappointment and displeasure arise, as many expectations were not fulfilled.
- Different interests and different views do not allow the project to run in the same direction; everyone wants to use the project for their own purposes.
- Content that is not intended is “cheered under” to the project manager as part of the project.
The Importance of Project Mandate Clarification
Many managers are not aware of the importance of the project start. This is very often the reason why the implementation of projects is started even before the client and the project manager have agreed on all the important points of a project. This can have an enormous negative impact on the project and can also cause considerable economic damage to the company.
The chart below illustrates the importance of project mission clarification during the project start-up phase:
No matter how fast a runner is, he will never reach his goal if he does not know at the start in which direction he should run. The same applies to project work. A project manager who does not know his goals, tasks and framework conditions exactly will run in the wrong direction and thus deliver “wrong” results.
Goal of the project order clarification
Basically, the clarification of the project mandate involves the clarification of the following key points:
- Why should the project be carried out?
- Who wants to achieve what?
- What should be different after project completion?
- When should the project be finished?
The best solution is to prepare a written project order. This officially clarifies what the project manager’s work should consist of and how (at least roughly) and with what resources he should perform it.
No project start without an order!
The project order is the basis for further action and in case of differences of opinion regarding project goals or contents, both the project client and the project manager can refer to it. This is because the project order was signed by both parties at the start of the project and can therefore be regarded as a binding agreement for the entire duration of the project.
What do I achieve with the project order?
- Creation of a binding agreement
- Definition of project contents
- Common understanding of the project contexts
- Information basis for team members coming later
- Securing the project manager and the project client
In 5 steps to the project order
But how does a project manager get his written project order?
In a first step, the project manager researches the history of the project. This is done through interviews with people who already have information about the project or its history, as well as through document reviews – if any already exist.
1. create a catalogue of questions
In order to facilitate research on the history of the project, it is best to create a catalogue of questions on the possible project goals and backgrounds, who benefits what and where there might be problems in the project. Answering the following questions is helpful.
Key questions for clarifying the project mandate
- What should happen in the project? (Goals)
- What should NOT happen in the project? (Non-targets)
- Who wants the project? (project client)
- When should the project start? (Start date)
- When should the project be completed? (deadline)
- Who should/must/should cooperate? (project team)
- Are there framework conditions that cannot be influenced?
- What is not allowed or must happen? (critical success factors)
- Were there similar projects in the past?
- Why is the project being started at all?
- Who represents which interests and why?
- Are there written documents, concepts, … that could be useful for the project?
For large and significant projects the questionnaire will be much more extensive. A detailed collection of questions that can serve as a basis and input for your own list of questions can be found in the article Project start with a sitaution analysis.
2. conducting interviews
Define interview partners
It is best to be very generous when selecting interview partners. The more information, views and opinions you gather, the clearer the picture becomes of what is to be done in the project and what is not or which aspects are unclear.
The best way to select the right people for the interviews is to use the company organisation chart. This helps to quickly identify important opinion leaders, decision makers, know-how carriers and technical experts. Basically, those persons should be interviewed who are already involved in or affected by the project now or later.
Finally, it is advisable to obtain feedback on the selection of colleagues. This ensures that no relevant persons have been forgotten.
The first step is to arrange appointments with the interview partners. An interview should not last longer than 30 to a maximum of 45 minutes. The interviewees are informed about the meaning and purpose of the interview, then they know the background and can prepare for it.
The interview itself should take place in a pleasant atmosphere. All answers are best documented in writing. Finally, it is important to thank the interviewee for the time spent and inform him or her about what happens with the interview results.
3. review of documents related to the project
In order to find out which documents already exist on the project, the interviews are the means of choice. A specific question, such as “What documents do you know about the prehistory or development of the project?”, addressed to each interviewee, usually reveals a large number of documents that would otherwise have been difficult or even impossible to find.
4. first draft project order
The results of the interviews and document analysis are then structured and summarised. Any ambiguities and differentiated points of view are removed by further inquiries until a complete description of the project is available.
This description should contain what is to be achieved with the project (content, goals and non-targets), who the key players are (client, project manager, team, etc.), how the time frame is defined (start and end date) and which general conditions are to be observed.
Based on the findings regarding the initial project situation, a first written project order is formulated, without which no project should enter the concrete planning phase.
5. coordination with the project client
The draft of the project order is then coordinated, discussed and adapted with the project client. The document is reviewed point by point. Here you should not be afraid of discussions and possible adaptations. Only service content that can actually be delivered within the given time can be accepted and included in the project order. Anyone who is already overcharged here lays the foundation for unstable project times and endless project stress.
It is also important for the project client to draw attention to the similarities from the interviews as well as to the different expectations. Any outstanding points must be clarified with the client.
At the end of the coordination there is a binding document, which contains the common view of the project of the project client and project leader to the project and is signed by both. This is the basis for the further planning and implementation of the project.
Of course, the project order must not get dusty on the shelf. In particular, the validity of the project objectives must be reviewed and, if necessary, adapted. A change of the project order always happens formally and only with the agreement of both signatories.
Content of the project order
The selection of the “right” project name is of great importance and is underestimated in many cases. The main benefit is the creation of a strong identification of the project participants with the project. In addition, the assignment of a project name forms the basis for the development of a project culture.
For large-scale projects with a long duration (over 18 months), a project logo is often defined in addition to the project name. The most important basic rule for the assignment of a project name is: The project name should be short, concise and project-related.
Description of the initial situation
Every project has a “trigger”, whereby cause and background for a project initiation can be very different. This makes it all the more important for every project manager to get a concrete picture of the current situation in the project. For this purpose, all project-relevant information is collected, systematically examined and put into relation with each other.
A subsequent interpretation of the results forms the essential decision basis for the further procedure in the project. Interesting at this point is also the way of looking at the development to be expected if the project is not realized.
Project objectives and non-objectives
The formulation of the project objectives is one of the most important tasks within the scope of the project contract clarification and is a core element of the agreement between the project client and the project manager. The project objectives should explain the meaning of the project and define the desired results in the project.
Correct project goals are:
- formulated succinctly and clearly
- Stable over the entire course of the project
The definition of project-non-objectives serves to better define the project and promotes awareness among all project participants. It is often only through the clear formulation of non-objectives that the project scope becomes truly clear and transparent.
The “negotiation” of goals and non-goals takes place cyclically between the project client and the project manager and is the core of the task clarification.
Main tasks in the project
By defining the main tasks in the project, the performance volume is determined at a rough level. The structure of the main tasks is decisive, as it already lays the foundation for the entire project structure. The detailed structuring and division of the main tasks into so-called work packages then takes place in a second step as part of project planning. In bold terms, the main tasks describe the path to the goal.
The project benefit should be quantified (e.g. planned cost savings or additional income for the company) and qualitative (e.g. increase in service level by 5%). A distinction can be made between one-off and periodic benefits. The comparison of the project benefit with the project costs is given in the form of an annual ROI (Return on Investment).
A detailed description of the project benefit is given in the “Project Business Case”.
Start and end date
Projects are temporary tasks and always have a defined start and end time. This is one of the essential distinguishing features from classical routine tasks. Each project is to be delimited in the course of the order clarification temporally, by specifying a concrete current date as start and end time. The additional definition of start and end events increases transparency, creates clarity and can also have a symbolic character.
Project costs are a central decision criterion for the realisation of a project and are of great importance for today’s clients. The planning and calculation of project costs usually takes place step by step. In a first step, the project costs are estimated on the basis of the project application. As the planning depth of the tasks in the project increases, so does the transparency of the project costs.
Details of the project team
Projects are not only complex in content but also in social terms. Depending on the size and complexity of the tasks, several specialists and experts from different business areas and organizations work together to achieve the project goals.
The definition of project roles and their personalization is crucial to ensure that the organization of a project runs efficiently and smoothly. The most important and institutionalized roles of a project are:
- the role of the project manager
- the role of the project sponsor
- the role of employees in the project team
A first approach, how many project employees from which areas with what qualifications and with what intensity are required for the project, also facilitates the personnel disposition of the line managers.
Example of a project order
The project order – an agreement
The project order is, so to speak, a contract for work between the project client and the project manager and creates a common understanding of the project context. It is an essential safeguard for both the project client and the project manager and also forms an important information basis for later project team members.
A project order is also a valuable communication instrument for the planning phase in the project and one of the most important tools for preventing project crises.
Tips for practice
- No project start without a written project order!
- Allow sufficient time for the creation and coordination of the project order.
- Create a rough draft at the beginning of the project and coordinate it with the project client.
- Develop and discuss the final version of the project order with the project team.
- The signature of the project client has a very high symbol content.
- In addition to the project objectives, it is also essential to define non-objectives. Often this is the only way to clarify what the concrete project result should be.
- The project order represents a safeguard for the project manager and his team.
We recommend the following articles for further reading:
- Work breakdown structure – 6 steps
- Work package
- Milestone Plan
- Time scheduling – Gantt chart
- Project order
- Project Client – role and tasks
- Project controlling – effective project monitoring
- Project reporting – meaningful project reports
- Social competence – a must-have for project managers?
- 9 Stages of Conflict Escalation according to Friedrich Glasl
- 4 Sides Model of Communication