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The project design: creating clarity

Project-based work is characterized by its planned character. Anyone who reads a book about project work will notice that hardly any attention is paid to the "execution" or "doing" part. Good preparation is half the job. This preparation is done in a number of ways:

- Determine the assignment and the result and create a project design
- Discuss the project design with the client until he says "Yes".

Then you continue with the preparation:

- Prepare a detailed project plan
- Have the project plan determined

All things considered here is only one thing: creating clarity . Clarity about the objectives, clarity about the result and clarity about the way in which that result is achieved. Clarity for yourself, for your client and for the project team.

Determine the assignment

A project always starts with a problem or an opportunity. Two companies merged ten years ago, but no profit has yet been realized through this merger. How can we ensure that in two years' time we will finally benefit from that merger? Every year, the fair provides a huge amount of parking problems at the supermarket. How can we prevent these problems this year? The province has decided to improve the sailing connection between Harlingen and Delfzijl for recreational shipping. How can we benefit from this? The social employment service must be more commercial, how can we still offer meaningful daytime activities to our mentally handicapped clients?

Such issues are the reason for the project. And: the project is the solution of such issues. We start a cultural project in which we set up a new corporate culture, we start a delivery service, we open a terrace on the water or we start a gallery with art of the mentally handicapped. It is important to zoom in very sharply on the why of the project at the very early stage. If you want to offer meaningful daytime activities to mentally handicapped people, setting up a gallery is a means and not the goal!

At this stage of the project, there is actually no project yet. You will conclude this very first phase with a project setup in which you put a line

- what the problem is
- why that is a problem
- what the result should be
- how you would like to set up the project
- what you need about time, money, people and resources.

This project design is intended to create clarity. You have to know where you are getting in but your client needs to know where he is getting in. Was this all the intention? On the basis of this project design, the client must be able to decide whether it pays to ask you to write a detailed project plan .

That makes writing a project design a difficult job. You want to be as clear as possible. You want to describe the project result in a concrete way, you want to make a good estimate of what you need and you want to tell your client exactly how you are going to tackle it. But you still do not know enough about that.

Our advice: be very explicit about the purpose of your project, your result and your approach. This stimulates the client to think along with you and to adjust you. You involve him in the assignment formulation.

Be generous in your estimation of what you need in terms of time, people, money and resources. Do not set too low: you create your playing space at that moment. Moreover, it is your interest that the client considers your project important. And an important project costs something.

Do not spend too much time writing the first draft. Spend your time specially on the conversation with your client.

Something more about problem, goal and result

Project-based work is about clarity. Clients have a problem, you are going to solve that for them. That also means something for the conversation with that client. He does not want to talk about the problem but about your results. You want to talk about the problem of knowing which result is best.

The problem is what one is bothered by or afraid of. Incidentally, the problem is often just a challenge: if the sailing routes are improved, how can we as a catering company benefit from that? The goal is that which one strives for. More sales, better results or more satisfied customers. Finally, the result is what one wants to achieve in concrete terms with the project. The result therefore helps to solve the problem by which the goal is achieved.

An example? Two large construction companies merged ten years ago. The expectation was a lot: equipment could be used more efficiently, employees could be used more efficiently and prospects across the border could be better approached. Now, ten years later, it appears that none of that has been realized. Although the company is not a problem, it does not realize anything about economies of scale. As a result, the shareholders are dissatisfied. They expected more of the share. The problem here is therefore not "insufficient profit" but "dissatisfied shareholders". The objective is therefore not that the profit should be higher but that the price of the share should be higher: after the end of the project, the price of the share has risen to twenty euros. This objective can be realized in several ways. One is to integrate both business cultures. The result of the project is: afterwards we realized that both company cultures are integrated.

How do you formulate the result?

The result is what the project is all about. It is the dream that you will realize. But it is also the yardstick with which you decide later whether you have succeeded or not. A smart project leader therefore ensures that the result of the project is formulated as clearly as possible. That smart project leader would therefore be unhappy with the way in which this is formulated above the result. Because what is that, an integrated corporate culture?

What often helps is to force yourself to visualize the result. What do you see when it is ready? What do you notice, what happens? You can see, for example, that employees all wear the same company clothing, you see a crowded party tent with dancing staff and their family, you see an operator from company X with equipment from company Y going to a project in Germany. Try to keep that picture in mind when you describe the results. Avoid the verbs as much as possible when formulating your results. Use nouns and use terms in your formulations that you can measure afterwards. Not:

"We organize a big party"
"A party where eighty percent of the employees come and of which half indicates that they have met with colleagues they had not met before. They appreciate the party with the score of 8. "

This formulation makes it clear what it is about. This formulation helps you to prioritize during the course of the project. This formulation can also help the client to free up the necessary resources. And maybe your client will discover that this result is not what he wants. "If you say so I realize that I'm not interested in that party but that people know each other. That they know what they have together. "And maybe the development of an intranet is a better solution to the problem. Incidentally, the client generally already comes up with the solution: "I want a big party ..." or "We really have to get started with the new company clothing."

The sharp formulation of the result amounts to the SMART formulation of your goals : specific, measurable, acceptable, realistic and time-bound.


If you have properly discussed the result with the client and you know what he wants, you can switch to the approach. How do you get it done? Who do you need? What powers do you need? How much money do you need? When can it be ready?

In this initiation phase, you do not have to think these things through to the millimeter. The point is that your client has a realistic image. Take your margins rather too spacious than too small. If you agree with the client on the result, you also agree on what you need for that.

Determining the project design

This phase around you with the preparation of the set-up and having it determined by your client. If you can, you ask the client to sign it. This is very common in many organizations. Not in many organizations. It is obviously not about that signature. The point is that your client really becomes aware of what this project is about. You have now completed the initiation phase!

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