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Starting a project can be challenging, with new information to process and, potentially, gaps in knowledge to overcome. You might have many questions about taking on this work, but aren’t sure of where to start.

Whether you’re starting a new project or joining a new team, taking a systematic approach can create more structure and relieve the stress of a new situation. Here, we’ve put together a project onboarding guide to help you with project planning, no matter the situation.

Key questions to ask when starting a new project 

At the beginning of a new project, there are some guiding questions for you and your team to answer together. Not all questions will apply to every project, so choose the ones that are most relevant to your work. 

Team roles and responsibilities

  • Who are the core team members, and what are their roles?
  • Who are the other stakeholders who may be involved (e.g., other teams, clients)?
  • Which tasks is each team member responsible for?
  • Who reviews work and gives the final sign off?
  • Who is responsible for communication with each stakeholder?
  • What regular meetings does this team have, such as weekly check ins? 
  • Who is responsible for meeting agendas and facilitation? If these meetings are already scheduled, who needs to be added? If not, who is responsible for scheduling?
  • How will the team members communicate and collaborate with each other?
  • How will team members provide feedback to each other? How often and in what format?

Client details

  • Who is the client contact? What is their role and background?
  • Have you worked with this client before? What previous projects has the team or organization completed with this client? Who has worked with this client before and how should that knowledge and information be transferred?
  • What are the client’s objectives for this project? What are the client’s larger objectives and priorities?
  • What is this client’s working style? How do they prefer to communicate, give feedback, and schedule and conduct meetings?

Project context

  • What is the project objective? What are the key questions to be answered through this project?
  • What are the interim and final deliverables (e.g., presentation, report document, press release, creative video)?
  • What is the timeline? What important milestones or deadlines need to be met (e.g., conference or meeting dates, client deadlines, etc.)?
  • Who is the client or end user? Who will review and give final sign off on deliverables?
  • What resources are already available? Are there materials that provide additional context? Does a repository of documents already exist, or can one be created? 
  • Which people have expertise in this project area and should be consulted? What is the best way to get this information (e.g., scheduling a knowledge transfer meeting or emailing key questions)?

Next steps

  • What are the immediate next steps, when are these tasks due, and who is responsible for each one?
  • When is the next time the team will check in on these steps?
  • When is the next time the team will review overall progress and plan?
  • If you need more information and context before getting started, who should be involved in future information-sharing meetings, and when can they occur?

Common challenges when starting projects with a new team

You are thrown into a project already in progress and feel like you are only getting bits of information.

Start by scheduling a separate meeting dedicated to getting you up to speed. You may have to ask around to figure out who should be present at the meeting—it could include a supervisor, a colleague with previous experience, or another team member you will be working with. Before the meeting, share your questions, using the above list as a reference, so team members know what to expect and have the opportunity to plan ahead. 

You have not yet been added to all relevant meetings and don't know where to find necessary information.

Ask for a project or team repository with all relevant documents; if one does not exist, offer to set one up. This shared folder should include meeting notes, any existing relevant documents, meeting schedules or calendar invites, and a project plan or timeline. In the introductory meeting, create a checklist of resources you need and make sure you get access promptly. 

You do not have enough context or information to execute your responsibilities.

If the project or subject matter is entirely new to you, it may be helpful to schedule additional one-hour sessions with team members for Q&A after you have reviewed any existing materials. Make sure to identify the people who can answer subject matter questions and let them know you will be following up with more questions.

You do not have a clear understanding of timelines.

Ask a supervisor or team member if a project timeline already exists. If not, offer to set up a meeting to create a timeline together. Make sure that important deadlines are included in the project timeline and discuss how often you should check in with your supervisor to make sure you are on the right track. For example, if you decide to have weekly check-ins to review your work, set up these recurring meetings in advance. 

Onboarding can feel overwhelming, but it can also be an exciting time to learn new skills and get to know co-workers. By practicing this systematic approach, onboarding will become easier and more efficient. 


What are your best practices for starting a new project or joining a new team? Tell us about it on LinkedIn!

Minah Kim profile image

Minah Kim

Minah Kim is a writer based in Brooklyn. She is a labor and community organizer with experience in the healthcare and professional services sectors. 

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