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Setting up a new project

At dxw we frequently start new projects and work with clients we haven’t worked with before. Delivery leads at dxw are responsible for setting up projects and ensuring all the right things are in place for when the team starts work.

We often find that time is limited and transitioning between projects can be a challenge, for delivery leads and the wider team.

This guide provides advice and tips, as well as a checklist for delivery leads about to start a new project. It can work for large projects (a phase of work like a discovery or a beta) as well as smaller projects which might only be a few weeks long.

Before a project starts #

In most cases, there’s not a very long lead time between winning a piece of work and starting it. We sometimes have a number of days, rather than weeks, for the team to get everything in place. This includes things like contracts, scheduling a team to do the work and making a plan for the first few days.

We’re lucky if the same delivery lead has been involved in the sales work that led to the project being won, because there’s always other work in flight. It’s important that knowledge is shared and the necessary introductions made so we can get the work off to a good start.

It is however worth remembering that most of our sales proposals are produced with limited information about the project, and it’s only once we start that we get a better idea of what the work is and what skills we’ll need to do it.

There are several things that delivery leads should do first, regardless of the shape of the project:

Do some reading #

Get hold of any background materials, such as proposal documents, meeting notes, project documents or email chains. Familiarise yourself with the brief and conversations that have taken place so far.

Speak to the person who has had the most involvement in the work to date #

Find out who led the sales bid, or who has the most knowledge about the project at dxw. This should give you a fairly good understanding of what the project is, what work has been done so far and what dxw is expected to deliver. Find out who’s who in the client organisation, and ask for an introduction to the main point of contact.

Meet the client team #

At the earliest opportunity, arrange a meeting with the client. It might be one person at this stage or everyone that will be involved in the project. Use the time to build rapport and get to know each other, as well as agree a start date and schedule any important meetings that need to be held in the first few weeks. If you can, bring along other team members as it might be useful to have their input.

Ask lots of questions #

Whether you’re talking to the person who led the sales bid, or the client team, ask questions.

Setting up the project #

Before the project starts there’s also a number of tasks, mostly administrative ones, that need to be done. Below is a checklist of things that need to be in place for a typical project.

Kick off meeting #

While the project is being set up, and before it starts, a kick off should happen. This ensures:

You should have everyone working on the project in this meeting (even if they’re part-time).

Introductions #

Use the kick-off to introduce everyone to each other. It might be a good idea to give team members a bit of advance notice about this, so that they can already think and prepare their own intros tailored to this project.

It shouldn’t just be about people’s names, but roles and what each person will be doing on the project. Some further ideas:

Get to a shared understanding of what the work and priorities are #

There are a number of outcomes you should aim to get out of a kick-off. This is important especially if we are working with that client for the first time and there are areas that are not very clear to us, or to them. You can structure a kick-off in the way that works best for you, but some frameworks that will help you get the outcomes you need are below:

Aim to reach a shared understanding of what’s desired and what’s possible. This can be a Sprint goal, a high level vision, or going through the requirements and getting clarity on each of these points. The scope is flexible, and it varies from project to project, but the main outcome is to make sure the team and the client understand what will be done. You should:

Talk about dxw ways of working #

Give an overview of how dxw works. Don’t assume that everyone in the client team has read the original proposal or visited the dxw website. Explain how we work:

It is also important to mention that we work with roadmaps, which might change over time as we know more about the project. This is fundamental in an agile project, so that we can react to change as quickly as possible. Therefore, we do have plans, but they are not set in stone.

Tell the client that if, at any point, they have an issue with the way we are working, or with any team member, the first point of contact for them is the dxw Delivery Lead. If the DL is the problem area or if they are a contractor, the Director of Delivery is then the next point of contact.

Discuss how the team want to work #

Clients will have their own way of working on projects and if they’ve used agile approaches before, it may be a different flavour of agile to what the dxw team are used to. Ask the client team to talk about how they’re used to working on projects and agree some principles for how the single team will work together. For example, do they typically follow the GDS Service Manual?

Explain how most dxw teams work, and communicate to the client that we’ve done this successfully with different clients over the years. However, be accommodating and suggest we “test and iterate” approaches. The retros are a perfect avenue to explore these.

There’s always something to discuss here. For example, how will week notes be written and who should they be sent to? Who needs to be invited to show and tells? How will user stories be written? Is there a story template the team want to use, and will developers estimate them?

Talk about co-location #

If you’re going to be co-located with the client, ask to visit the office space and have a look around. Make sure that the team have access to the site (do they need passes) and that you have space to work. This includes space to run sprint meetings and show and tells. Work with the Commercial Operations team to order any equipment or things the team will need. It’s also worth agreeing which days will be spent co-lo and which at dxw in this meeting. Take the teams working patterns into account.

When the team are going to be in different locations, think about technology and how to make sure each team member is able to join meetings and work with others. It might be useful to buy some extra microphones, good headphones or additional screens for the team. Chat to Olivia if you have any questions.

Cover the following tech for collaboration: Slack, Google drive, Trello, Miro boards, Google Hangouts or Go2Meeting, Calendars (team and personal).

Ensuring security from the start #

Last updated: 21 July 2023 (history)