Why You Should Use a Project Start Checklist

How you start a project is a key factor in the success of the project. If you start a project well, it is more likely to end well. A project start checklist is an important tool to help you and your team focus on the most important tasks that need to be done at the beginning of a project.

A Doctor’s Reasons for Using A Checklist

These are some of the benefits of using a checklist taken from The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.

  • A checklist reminds us of the minimum necessary steps that must be taken and makes them explicit. They instill a discipline of higher performance.
  • Checklists help with memory recall and clearly set out the minimum necessary steps in each process.
  • Checklists establish a higher standard of baseline performance.
  • Checklists provide a kind of cognitive net, they catch mental flaws of memory, attention, and thoroughness inherent in all of us.
  • Checklists can provide protection against elementary errors.
  • Under conditions of complexity, checklists are required for success.

Three Benefits of Using a Project Start Checklist

1. A project start checklist frees your mind by reminding you of important tasks

When you are responsible for many tasks, it is easy to forget seemingly obvious things that need to be done at the start of a project. Having each step written down frees your mind from trying to remember everything and enables you to focus on executing the work.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Getting Things Done that highlight the importance of keeping your mind clear for solving problems.

  • Anything held only in your head will take up more (or less) attention than it deserves. Write it down!
  • Use your mind to think about things, not of them.
  • When you use your memory as your organizing system, your mind will become overwhelmed and incompetent.
  • Your mind is designed to have ideas based upon pattern detection. It isn’t designed to remember much of anything. The mind is brilliant at recognition but terrible at recall.
  • When freed from the remembering function, your mind functions incredibly at problem-solving and creative thinking

2. A project start checklist helps you plan ahead

One of the roles of a project manager is to plan ahead in order to stay ahead of schedule. Many important tasks at the start of the project only take a few minutes to complete, but failing to do them promptly could result in problems that will take many hours and additional costs to correct.

An example of this is requesting the conformed plans. It only takes a few minutes to send this request. If you don’t do this at the start of the project and begin working from outdated plans, you’ll have to spend time and money to correct your work later.

The project start checklist helps you plan ahead in the following ways:

  • Knowing which tasks to complete first
  • Getting the correct third-party suppliers working on your project promptly
  • Getting your team working on important time-sensitive tasks right away
  • Helping you obtain critical information necessary to start the project correctly

3. A project start checklist empowers your team

Starting a project does not necessarily require a highly experienced project manager. Many of the tasks at the start of a project can be done by people with varying degrees of skill and experience.

By having a project start checklist, you can efficiently delegate tasks to your team and get them involved. I recommend creating training materials such as standard procedures and video guides showing how to complete tasks on the checklist.

As an example, our project managers used to set up new project folders. By creating a simple video and written process for this, it can now be done by anyone in the company, even if they have no experience in project management.

Once you have a project start checklist and the proper documentation for performing each process. You can ask your team to begin each project by following the checklist. They can complete the most tasks on the list which frees you to work on tasks that only you or an experienced project manager can complete.

An Example Project Start Checklist

This is an example of the project start checklist that our team uses. The list has been simplified and made more generic as an example that can be used by most suppliers and subcontractors.

The checklist we use has more details and specific directions for team members. I encourage you to use this as a starting point for creating your own checklist.

  • Create a new project folder (we have a training video of this process so that it can be done by anyone)
  • Request the baseline schedule from the General Contractor (GC)
  • Request the conformed drawings from the general contractor
  • Review and confirm due dates for submittal drawings
  • Review the project specifications and identify any unusual or project-specific requirements
  • Read the project review (kick-off) document (compiled by the estimators)
    • Send in any early requests for information (RFI) as indicated by the estimators
    • Review any other important bid documents from the estimate
  • Generate work packages and phases
  • Enter work packages and budgets into the project management software
  • Assign work packages to the detailer(s)
  • Enter work packages into the submittal log
  • Issue purchase orders for buyout items
  • Submit any required welder certifications
  • Review and confirm inspection requirements
  • Create the schedule of values (SOV)

Final Thoughts

If you want to include a greater level of detail and accountability in your checklists, consider assigning each task to a specific person or role within the company, along with an expected completion timeline. As an example, the “create a new project folder” task can be assigned to be completed by the project administrator role within 24 hours of project kick-off.

In your company, it may make sense to create a Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RACI Matrix) as a separate document to help manage who is responsible for what processes.

Full Kit – Advice from a Manufacturing Executive

(This is some advice from a friend that is an executive at a manufacturing company.)

The concept of achieving “full kit” (have all the necessary info and resources assigned) before we start a project is derived from the project management body of knowledge of the Theory of Constraints (TOC), first introduced by Eliyahu Goldratt in his book The Goal. The simple, and powerful, concept that we should not start a project unless we are “full kit” to avoid having to start and stop which causes project delays and waste of resources.

An early project start rarely coincides with an early finish.

It is more important that you finish a project rapidly than that you start quickly. It can be more important that you do not start too soon before you have gathered all of the necessary resources and achieved full kit.

Adhering to a project start checklist forces discipline to ensure you are fully prepared with all technical documents, work packages, materials, and other resources needed to complete the project once started.

Related Posts about Checklists

Please visit my project management page for more articles and tips on managing projects.

Leave a Reply