Setting up for Success - Project update #1

Welcome to our first update on Setting up for success. We’ll be publishing these regularly so that interested people can stay up to date with how we’re progressing.

The scope of our project

We’re looking at ways to help people responsible for setting up projects and project teams.

Our offering is the Digital Service Toolkit, which supports people across NSW Government in the design and delivery of services. We currently provide a range tools and resources, but are open to new ways of helping users succeed.

Our remit is whole-of-government, so any output from this work will be created to help anyone in NSW Government set up projects or project teams for success

Approach so far

We’ve started with a “round zero” of research to help understand the space better (We’re designers, not project managers).

This includes:

  • Sourcing and reviewing existing PM resources from across NSW Gov
  • Sourcing and reviewing 3rd party resources for setting up teams and projects
  • Speaking with subject matter experts who work with a variety of projects and / or project managers
  • Looking at PM blogs and memes to get an insight into the real experience
  • Reflecting on our own engagements with projects, PMs and setting up teams

We’ve also been recruiting people for research who have found themselves setting up projects and project teams (this includes non-PMs who’ve been thrust into the role) to interview in our next round.

(If you know someone who’d be interested or helpful, please share this registration form.
Microsoft Forms)

Mapping a hypothetical journey

We’ve pulled all these inputs together to create hypothetical journeys – our best guess at the tasks, experiences, pain points and resources required across the project management lifecycle (with a heavy focus on the initial briefing, planning and set-up).

We’re using these to guide the questions we ask In our first round of testing, and to develop some initial concepts to share for feedback. It’s worth pointing out at this stage, we’re not trying to get a hole-in-one with a solution, but just use solution-concepts to understand users needs and preferences a little better.

Some interesting learnings

The quandaries of product vs project teams.

When we initially started, we were looking at setting up teams ina. Very general sense, but we have learnt some (admittedly obvious) things about the different needs of product vs project teams.

For example, project teams are only spun up for the duration of a project (e.g. until the thing is delivered), so are not as accountable for the long term outcomes of their work as a product team who design , deliver and run the thing.

The way these different teams are structured, funded and supported led us to our first quandary: Do we focus on all, or narrow the scope (something PMs will know all about).

For now, we’ve decided to focus on project teams, as the challenges and constraints they face are quite pronounced, and solving these challenges will likely be useful to product teams too.

Winning funding vs successful scoping

Projects are generally funded to deliver a specific thing. And getting that funding is the first hurdle for the parties involved.

But winning funding is competitive, and so, some of the behaviours that occur in that initial stage are more aligned to convincing funders to choose the project than planning out a viable project plan.

It is, again, a fairly obvious finding, but it’s critical to the setting up for success. If the case made for funding is overly ambitious in scope, timeline or benefits, the first actions of the person responsible for setting up for success is actually to bring the ambitions closer to reality. And if you’ve been thrust into managing a project for the first time, that is no small feat.

In design, we need to accept some things as givens (we call them gravity forces – we just need to accept them), and we’re thinking this feels like one of them. So one potential opportunity is how that initial translation of funding request into a project plan can be used as a point to engage stakeholders, rather than battle them. Stay tuned.


Another hard reality of project teams is that they’re often only funded for a phase at a time, and in the gap between rounds of funding, teams can be dissolved, learnings lost and momentum slowed.

Something we’re interested in is what are the practices that mean projects and project teams can retain momentum, even when there’s a break. In the PM world, this is sometimes called remobilising.

Some interesting ways we’ve learned to make remobilising easier:

  • Getting SMEs or service owners to understand the design and delivery process, so they’re more able to pick back up and going when a project is refunded
  • Being hyper-diligent about the way documents and learnings are stored, so that anyone who picks them up can get moving sooner.
  • Working with the service owners and stakeholders to lead recruitment for research and testing, so that when a team is remobilised, the recruitment capacity is ready to go.

Got other ideas about how teams can set up better for remobilisation? Let us know in the comments.

What’s next?

In our Round One of research we’ll be interviewing a range of project managers (and those thrust into the role) to better understand their experience and what they’re missing.

We’ll cross reference what we learn from them with our round zero learnings, and then decide on the best path to pursue (yep, all very agile here).

Next we’ll invite some more research participants to help co-create some potential solutions, and tell us more about their experiences.

Know someone we need to talk to?

For those who have set up projects or project teams, share this registration form:

If you know someone who’s not a PM, but might be helpful for our project (especially ppl involved in funding or supporting project teams), please share their details below or via

What do you think?

If you’ve got thoughts, experiences or ideas, please comment below!
Everything we hear from you guys helps improve the outcomes of the project!

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Hi Rich, I have some PM experience, perhaps we could catch up for a short discussion this week?

Hi Rich, another aspect of building a successful project team is making sure you have the right people with the right skill sets. As a project manager if you are given a new team to work with you first need to find out who is good at what. A more mature agency might have a system or database where they track individual skill-sets but in most cases, it will come down to the PM talking to his team members and extracting this information (formally or informally).


Hi Greg,

Please feel free to email me at

I agree with what Mark is saying about building a skill register within an organisation.
An ongoing challenge we have had is with allocating people to small project teams. There are people who put their hands up to be involved in multiple projects within the larger team who do not always have the skills, knowledge or expertise to make a contribution. They can have an outsized influence in the projects that we deliver and can impede successful delivery. This is particularly salient, as we are undergoing major changes in our team structure and service delivery model. Viewing the challenge as being one of internal stakeholder management, we have been trialing a simple matrix to allocate people to project roles to ensure that people with the appropriate and roles have representation in our projects.

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We’ve heard this a lot now Mark.

If you have used any great examples of those systems databases, please do share.

It would also be interesting to learn about the space between informal discussions and an official database (as I reckon this is where most teams / departments operate).

(Sorry for the slow reply, have been on hols)

This is a great resource @NathanE , thanks for sharing. Would love to see the whole kit and kaboodle (you can email me at if you’re happy to share)

A few questions:

  • Getting this stuff documented is obviously a critical first step - but how do you keep people (especially stakeholders) accountable for their prescribed role throughout the project?

  • We’ve heard many projects “Just need to be delivered”. When this occurs, how do you manage the available skills/roles vs the skills/roles the project actually requires to succeed?

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Sorry Greg, been away for a few weeks. We’re building a database of PMs to work with -Could you add your details to this form: Microsoft Forms

Not sure why, but the form is not working…

Thanks for the heads up @GregH !

Have rescheduled the closing date, so should be fine now: Microsoft Forms

Hi Rich,

Very sorry for the delayed response. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet worked in an organisation that was mature enough or projectised to implement such a tool. Within Cyber Security I did build out functionality to capture staff capabilities in our Cyber Incident Management application but it hasn’t yet been utilised.

For most of my career as a project manager, I have had to rely on recommendations and seek out resources that had the right skill sets rather than rely on any databases or tools.

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