How Not to Start a Project

Posted on: March 7, 2010

Whether freelance or employed, many writers start projects in the worst possible way.

I know this, because early in my career, my experience with initial project meetings was, shall we say, less than stellar.

Here’s the scenario:

Clients would call me to schedule a meeting. They wanted to meet at their office with staff from various departments in order to go over initial information about a project they had in mind.

Depending on the document, I could spend one or more hours talking with managers, engineers, marketing people, software developers or product experts about concepts, planning, audience, specifications — everything required to launch a project.

Now, I don’t have a photographic memory, so in addition to listening intently, all while trying to understand and make sense of a huge amount of new information, I furiously scribbled notes. Sometimes I brought a tape or digital recorder along as well, just to be sure I didn’t miss anything important. 

Of course, I also asked lots and lots of questions during such meetings. Have you ever had technical people get antsy when you repeatedly question them about the barrage of new facts you are trying to make sense of? Or marketing managers grow impatient when you couldn’t quite follow every twist and turn in their presentation on market research and sales strategies?

If you’ve just raised your hand, then you’ve been in a similar situation and have experienced how tough it can be to plunge into a new project and get your bearings.

At the end of the initial meeting, someone would usually give me (or I would ask for) printed material about the product. I would read it and think: “Hm, this seems to contain pretty much the same information I got in the meeting.”

So, what is wrong with this picture? In short, it is the wrong way to start a project.

Very quickly, I learned what to do when someone called to say: “Hey, let’s get together. We’ve got a project we’d like you to do for us.” First, I thanked the caller and then — here is the critical point — I asked to see printed or online material before we held the first project meeting.

I read everything they would give me, annotated it with comments and questions, and often created a separate list of tangential questions as well. I also jotted down ideas, strategies, suggestions and anything else that occurred to me.

Getting all available information ahead of the kick-off meeting proved to be the optimal approach. I arrived at my clients’ offices more knowledgeable and could ask better, more insightful questions. My clients didn’t have to explain so much to me or spend time on the more obvious details. We all saved time, money and frustration, because we launched the project in a more efficient manner.

How not to start a project? Walk in knowing as little as possible. 

What has your experience been in this area? Elizabeth Lexleigh  The Write Ideas  lexpower


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