Launching Projects



Projects go bad from the beginning every day. They fail in a heartbeat, not just in startups or troubled firms, but also in big ones, with major projects and veteran managers. Why? Changing values, competition, technology, and shifting regulations are often involved. However, the root cause may well be today's deeply ambitious business plans. Such plans can only be done by new projects, typically linked to other organizations. For this reason, most any project now begins life in a matrix of other projects, each part of dynamic plans of its own firm, aiming to win in its sector, in flux, economically and politically. For these (and more) reasons, today's projects are hyper-complex. Conflict is impossible to avoid, and turbulence is certain.

Not all project managers can handle the challenge of launching projects. They may be fine team leaders or technical people, but then blown away at the start by the clash of ambitious plans, internal agendas, and cultural differences. In this perfect storm, projects get hard to define, harder to organize, and then impossible to deliver. Further complicating the storm are today's many approaches to navigating it – agile, waterfall, hybrid.

This is the challenge of pre-planning, also called project concept, definition, launch, or initiation. What is needed are some heuristics for it, that is, some foundational "rules of thumb" for how to not fail. This course is designed to provide participants with such a foundation. It offers practical experience with launching projects by way of waterfall and agile approaches, as well as advice on tailoring project launch to business case and other unique project contexts.


Early- to mid-career professionals involved in projects as:

  • General managers wishing for more project know-how
  • Project managers who want a framework for
    • collaborating with sponsors at the moment of assignment
    • choosing the best development approach for a new project
    • exploring the new roles of product owner and product manager
  • IT professionals wishing to enhance management and leadership skills
  • SMEs coping with the unknown unknowns of starting global projects
  • Team leaders wishing for better rapport with key stakeholders early on


12 hrs (Schedule detail)

Class Size

Participant Minimum = 6; Maximum = 18


  • Case Study (7 pages - provided pre-course)
  • Workbook (c. 30 pages - provided in course)
  • Recommended (not provided):


  • Heuristics for project launch, tailored to participant projects
  • Job aids for project launch via multiple approaches
    • plan-driven, scrum, and product discovery


By the end of the course, participants are to know how to:

  • Not fail at project launch, by using heuristics, action research, and tailored approaches
  • Design plan-driven approaches to launch, including charters, stakeholder and risk registers
  • Design scrum approaches, including models of role set, product backlog, user stories of 1st sprint
  • Design product discovery approaches, including vision, opportunity/solution trees, release plans


Participants study two Asia-Pacific firms. The firms contract on an IT project critical to their futures. Both are moving into new markets with leading edge technologies, so the assignment goes to a veteran project manager. But then, boom! Feel the pain as things get off to a rocky start, and then get a lot worse. What has happened? Where did the project manager go wrong? Were there problems beyond project management? Work with colleagues to understand the case. Decide how you could do better. Then, with your group, on the foundation the course provides, try out and evaluate three different ways the case project could have been done better. The next time you launch a project, give yourself and your firm a better chance to succeed. Know how to not fail!


1 Project Launch: a Case Study in Failure

  • Project launches that participants did not love
  • Evaluate management of case project launch
  • Develop basic heuristics for launching projects

2 How to Not Fail: Plan-Driven Launch

  • Per PMI, PMBOK® Guide Initiating Process Group
  • Model project context, community, stakeholders, risk
  • Design plan-driven launch of case project

3 How to Not Fail: Scrum Launch

  • Per Agile Manifesto, mindset, Scrum Guide
  • Scrum Methodology: Roles, Ceremonies, Artifacts
  • Design scrum launch of case project

4 How to Not Fail: Product Discovery

  • Per thought leaders in product discovery/management
  • Vision, Opportunity/Solution Tree, Release Plan
  • Design product discovery approach to case project

5 Wrap-up

  • Compare approaches via basic heuristics
  • Tailor/fine-tune heuristics to participant projects
  • Participants design approach to launch they did not love


All Cogent Language courses are built according to a consistent design pattern: they have a learning path that is "cogent" to the needs of participants. We have found that, for our participants, a learning path is cogent when it is constructive, collaborative, cumulative, fast-paced, visual, and personal. Here's what makes this course cogent.


Looking at the business background of the case project and the manager's practice, participants construct an analysis of what went wrong in project selection and management. After being introduced to three 21st Century approaches to launching projects, they take on, sequentially, the roles of project managers using three of today's leading approaches. In each role,they construct the work products essential to the pertinent approach.


During this case study, participants construct many of the analyses and work products in a pair or team context.


In this course, the main learning activities are not topics presented by the instructor - they are tasks participants do. Each task builds on previous tasks and topics, with participants incorporating the work of teammates and accumulating knowledge in concrete project management outputs pertinent to the case.


The case study on which the class is based is short. Cogent Language provides it in advance of the class, and we recommend that participants study it. In order to frame, address, and relate the topics of the ambitious agenda above, this class moves quickly.


Explanations and task work for the course are scaffolded by diagrams, tables, and other structural models in the class workbook and in the presentation of the instructor. The task-based learning process of the class makes extensive use of sketching and whiteboards.


For each group, the facilitator customizes agenda and interaction. Group size is kept small so individuals can benefit from coaching. By way of coaching and interaction, each participant can identify the gap(s) in her project initiation practice that s/he cares about and the approaches to project launch that might be most useful going forward.