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IT Recruiter Training: Project Initiation Phase, Project Planning Phase

This blog post is part two of a seven-part miniseries dedicated to helping IT recruiters (and IT staffing sales professionals) understand the software development lifecycle to further develop their technical and business acumen to improve candidate and customer engagement.

My goal with each blog post is to enhance recruiter knowledge and sales knowledge so that IT staffing professionals may share and speak a common language with their candidates (IT professionals) and customers (IT hiring managers) and  provide an engaging experience for the candidates and customers they serve.

In part one, I explained what the software development lifecycle is, why software engineering teams follow a process for developing software and the value of following that process.

In this post I break down the project initiation phase and the project planning phase of the SDLC and provide some sample candidate interview questions and sales probing questions.

Project Initiation Phase
Project initiation is the first step to kicking off any project.  This is where an abstract idea becomes a meaningful goal. In this stage, a business case is created to provide justification for undertaking the project, product, or program.  The purpose of the business case is to evaluate the benefit, cost, and risk of the project as well as alternative options. The business case provides the rationale for the preferred solution.  

There are generally two ways in which projects are initiated in corporate America. There are top-down initiatives and there are bottom-up initiatives. A top-down initiative is an initiative or project that originates from the top, either the board, the C-Suite or with a Vice President. In this instance the executive leadership team commits to making the investment and moves forward with the project. They inform the company of their decision by “handing down” the project to middle management and leaving it to the project team to execute. Big, strategic, projects like an ERP implementation, digital transformation or a cloud migration are often top-down initiatives.

Most projects however are bottom-up initiatives.  A bottom-up initiative is a project that originates from the middle or the bottom of the organization. For example, a mid-level manager might identify a problem on the manufacturing floor, create a business case for a solution to the problem and then present their business case to executive leadership for approval. Or a software engineer might identify a more effective and efficient way for executing a business process in which they create a business case to initiate a new project. 

It is called a bottom-up initiative because the project originates from the bottom or the middle or the corporate hierarchy. Most projects are bottom-up initiatives because individual contributors and middle management are closest to the problems within a company.  Executive leadership doesn’t have the same visibility into the day- to-day operations of the business that individual contributors and middle management have.

Sales Pro Tip: 
As a sales professional, you want to uncover projects as early as possible, ideally before or during the project initiation phase.  This increases your chances for making the sale because you can participate in the planning phase with your customer by asking astute probing questions, to intelligently position your offering.   Consider the following sales probing questions that might initiate a new project:

  • How happy are you with the performance and effectiveness of your existing application(s)?
  • What are your customers asking of you that you have not yet figured out how to deliver?
  • What software solutions is the business asking of you and your team?
  • In what areas do you feel new or enhanced software could improve productivity?

Project Planning Phase
The project planning phase is initiated by receiving an approved business case and/or a project evaluation form that has been signed off and approved by the executive sponsor or customer.  The objective of this phase is to develop a project charter, project management plan, and a budget that will ensure a successful project.

Roles and Responsibilities

Executive Sponsor 
The executive sponsor acts as the overall authority on matters regarding the expression of the business needs, the interpretation of the functional requirements and the mediation of issues regarding the priority, scope, and domain of the business requirement.

Project Manager
The project manager has overall responsibility and authority for the day-to-day activities associated with the project and is accountable for overall success. During the planning phase of a project, the project manager is forced to think through potential risks and hang-ups that could occur during the project.

Project Stakeholders
If there are other stakeholders in the project, their specific goals and objectives must be identified during this phase.

Their roles and responsibilities and the phases of the project that they are involved in must be clearly identified during the project planning phase.

Project Planning Deliverables and Work Artifacts
During the project planning phase a project plan is created to define the project schedule, identify, and allocate the resource requirements, define the work breakdown structure of tasks and their dependencies, estimate project cost and create a project budget, schedule project milestones and reviews and define how the needed resources including contractors will be obtained and when. Additional deliverables and work artifacts include:

  • Creation and documentation of the project charter including the project scope
  • Identification of executive sponsors and define their role and responsibilities
  • Assign Project Manager
  • Identify project stakeholders
  • Create project cost estimate
  • Define processes and procedures for requirements management, project tracking, contractor management, verification and validation, quality assurance, change management, and risk management.
  • Define scope boundary to limit or prevent scope-creep. 

Project planning is considered complete once the project charter, the project budget, and the project management plan are approved.

Recruiter Pro Tip: 
Consider the following candidate interview questions relative to the project planning phase. 

  • In your own words, describe to me the planning phase? 
  • In your experience, what are the key activities performed during the project planning phase?
  • What do you feel are the key work artifacts produced during the project planning phase and by whom?
  • Tell me about a time where you were involved in the project planning phase
  • What role did you play?

Sales Pro Tip:
Consider the following sales pain probing questions when speaking with customers and prospects regarding their projects. These questions will help identify, understand, and qualify project related opportunities and staffing opportunities associated with the project.

  • What is the overall goal of the project?
  • What are the business drivers for this initiative?
  • Who is the executive sponsor for this project?
  • Who are the key project stakeholders for this initiative?
  • Who have you identified as the project manager responsible for managing this project?

Project Management Software
Suppose you're building a house. It's a complex process in which some tasks must be done in a particular order. You can't install windows if you haven't put up the walls yet. You probably have dozens of contractors working on the house, and you have to know which days they are available to pour the foundation, lay the tile, and so forth. Then you have to schedule them based not only on their availability but also on each task happening in the right order. The way to manage a complex project like this one, including all the jobs that need to be done by whom and when, is to use project management software.

Project management software is a type of online collaboration app. All the people who are working on a project log in and see what they're supposed to do and when. These people also record their progress on those tasks and add relevant details, such as notes about any changes. With the appropriate permission level, people can also see what everyone else is doing, what requirements must be met for them to get it done, and when.

For the person or people managing the project, the project management software provides a clear overview of the project and its health. Are all the tasks on track to be completed on time? If one task is late, how does it affect the projected deadlines of other tasks? Is someone available to pick up an urgent task if the person assigned to do it is ill? Plus, if the project management software supports tracking finances, the app will also tell the people in charge whether the project is running on budget.

Common project management software applications include Basecamp, Teamwork, Zoho Projects, Microsoft Project, Celoxis, Wrike, Proofhub and Monday.com.

In part three I cover the requirements gathering phase.

To further hone your candidate qualification skills, check out our eBook, Executing the Candidate Interview, Five Pillars to Effective Candidate Qualification.

Executing Candidate Interviews for Effective Qualification

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