Starting up a project

When a research project is starting, especially when there are several different organizations involved, it is absolutely necessary to establish certain issues from the beginning.

It is essential that all the involved are in the same page from the very first day. But how can we make sure we all agree?

Usually there is a long project plan where the main objectives and procedures are settled. However, that does not mean that everyone involved has read it in detail and understood completely what is written in such a document.

What I propose is to change the strategy and turn a boring document into a fun workshop. Design techniques provide us with the tools to open discussion in a harmless but effective way.

So the idea is to gather all the stakeholders involved in the project to establish a working framework. The topics to bring up:

  • Global aims of the project
  • Building trust:  Background, Needs and Aspirations, Fears and Concerns, Degree of involvement
  • Criteria for decision making

Global aims of the project:

What: We will walk a long way together, but where to?

Why: To make sure that everyone involved understand the objectives and procedures to be used in the project.

How: From the initial document it is possible to come up with a list of main topics and aims to be looked at during the research. That list can be exposed from the beginning to have an open discussion over it, or the facilitator might prefer to start up over a blank sheet to see if it matches at all what the stakeholders think.

Key questions: Is there anything we missed out in the initial plan? Do we all agree?

Building trust:

Why: In order to value other’s input into the project it is necessary to fully understand what they do and why they are involved in the project.


What: Who are the rest of stakeholders and why are they valuable to the project.

Why: To show why they have been chosen to be part of the project.

How: Each stakeholder will write up a bit of its company’s background, its strengths and how its contribution will be valuable to the project. This information will be shared in the workshop by themselves or the facilitator.

KQ: field of work, strengths, valuable contribution.

Needs and aspirations:

What: Needs, aspirations, motivations and expectations of each of the stakeholders involved.

Why: To share why they are interested in being part of the project.

How: It can be done individually by the different stakeholders or in groups. In any case it will be presented and shared with everyone.

KQ: reasons to be involved (needs & motivations), how do you think it will benefit you/your company (expectations-aspirations)

Fears & Concerns

What: Sharing worries before they become a problem. Both aspects will be analysed: concerns regarding the outcomes and related to the internal running system of the project.

Why: to identify possible areas of distress.

How: Propose themes of both internal and external factors that might affect the project. Have an open discussion leaded by the facilitator.

KQ: what might fail? Concerns regarding the strategy, internal structure, external factors that might affect the outcome…

Degree of involvement

What: how the stakeholders will contribute

Why: to have a clear idea of the available resources, skills and information that everyone brings into the project.

How: each stakeholder identifies what they can offer and what they might need from others. Afterwards needs and offered contribution will be compared to see if there are requirements that the team does not fulfil yet. It is intended to achieve an agreement on individual and collective contributions.

Criteria for decision making

What: giving priority to the subjects brought up as objectives and fears

Why: to have an established criterion for later decision making

How: Ideas identified in the previous sections will be put to the vote in order to agree on the weight of each of the subjects.

Last step:

a short-visual document should be generated with the information gathered in the workshop and distributed among all the involved, becoming this a reference document for the development of the project.


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