Project Initiation: A Guide to Starting a Project the Right Way
Starting your project strongly boosts your chances of success. No matter the goal you have in mind at the planning stage, whether it is financial or non-financial, a strong start is a crucial requirement for managing projects successfully.
In every project life cycle, the first phase and arguably the most important is the project initiation phase. The project initiation phase is one of the areas that tend to overwhelm project managers simply because of the numerous variables they have to consider. Failure to create effective project initiation processes will result in the project not attaining the planned ROI (Return on Investment).
One of the major reasons why many projects fail is because of a bad project start. How do you know the best way to start a project? What are the variables you need to consider to significantly increase success at the project initiation phase and the overall project?
Read on to learn everything you need to know about the project initiation process from the get-go to the close of the planning phase.
What is Project Initiation?
Every project regardless of the scope and size is executed in stages. For a project to be executed successfully, it would be best to go through the stages carefully and appropriately.
The first phase of the life cycle of project management is the initiation stage. This phase is where a group of people gathers to convert thoughts and ideas into plans. These thoughts are necessarily the solutions to problems you can identify around you. Identifying the problem, looking for the best solution, and actionizing it, is what you do in the first phase.
Another key process of the first phase is the approval of the project. You get approval from the project's recipients such as project stakeholders, clients, and sponsors. Before approval can be granted, the project must be in line with the objectives.
At this stage, you should know and understand your project goals. Every technical detail that contributes to the foundation of the project should be gathered at the project initiation phase.
Project Initiation Process: Step-by-Step Guide
1. Create a Business Case
For efficient follow-through of the first phase of the project management life cycle, there are a series of steps to follow and the first is to develop a business case. A business case is an official file/document that gives a detailed explanation of how the project aligns with the company's long-term goals.
This document expresses enough valid reasons why the company should use all its financial and human resources on the project. The business case does not address any technical detail; it focuses majorly on the business aspects. Convincing management for approval is the major reason the team prepares a business case.
Creating a business case addresses the concerns of the management when it comes to business and financial risks. In summary, the document explains the reason for the project. The document should be very comprehensive to make it adaptable and wholesome, thereby covering every needed aspect.
Communicate the information contained in the document clearly and logically. There should be accountability for every cost and resource involved. The business case is like a project pitch, you are pitching to your superiors the reason for starting the project.
However, for a business case to be clear, you need to follow a particular structure. Here is the guide you need to use:
- Preface – The preface is like an introduction to the body of the document. For a book, the preface contains the introductory remarks of the writer. Oftentimes, a little detail about the document is shared in the preface. Also, some acknowledgment might be done by the author of the document.
- Table of Contents – This is the outline of every aspect that wants to be addressed in the document. For easy navigation, the pages where each outline starts will be indicated in front of the outline.
- Briefing – This is an executive summary that talks about the reason for the project, why the company needs it, and the expected goals at the end of project execution.
- Proposed Costs – This section discusses the costs and resources needed to completely execute the project.
- Conclusion –This is a wrap of everything talked about in the document. No new information should be introduced here to avoid unnecessary confusion.
2. Conduct a Feasibility Study
When the rightful persons have granted the project team approval for the business case, do a thorough check of the probability of success at the end of project execution. This is called a feasibility study and it is very important to conduct so that the team can know their chances right from initiation.
The feasibility study is one of the important documents that every project team should create in the initiation phase. The document might be filled with assumptions but they must be actionable and realistic. A feasibility study gives some kind of reassurance to the team that the project is worth executing.
Before you can conclude on the likelihood of the success of any project, you must consider the existence of every possible factor. Consider the present factors and any future factor that you feel has a higher chance of affecting the project such as financial and business-related risks.
After considering all possible factors and constraints, you should be able to confirm if the project is worth executing or not. During this step, you should focus solely on the possible solutions to the problem(s) you identified. Finding potential solutions gives you the best approach on how to execute a project.
Your feasibility study should be a thorough one because you are expected to account for unforeseen constraints that may come up during core project phases. You should research opportunities and document them for future purposes because opportunities can pave the way for solutions too.
If there are expected risks, they should be outlined at this stage alongside the best approach to the risks if they occur. While making your plans and analyses, you should also try to gather the necessary resources and funding that you need for the project. The resources are what give you a head-start.
3. Draft a Project Charter
Drafting a project charter is unarguably one of the crucial steps in the initiation phase of the project management life cycle. Every information on a complete project charter answers the ‘Who,' ‘When,' and ‘What.' Let's look at what information these “WH” questions want to get.
- Who? – This question refers to every person that is related to the project either concerning the authorization, inspection, planning, or execution. Who are the key project stakeholders, team members, and customers, and sponsors that are directly or indirectly affecting the project?
- When? – The question ‘when' refers to the time frame of the project. How much time do we need to work on the project and how much time is available? How much time are we to spend on each phase of the project management life cycle?
- What? – The question ‘what' addresses the project itself. The question wants answers about the scope, size, and objectives of the project. These three questions are to be discussed extensively in any project charter.
With the appropriate answers to those questions above, you are expected to talk more deeply about the project. If your project charter talks about the project goals, expected risks/constraints, possible issues, problems and solutions, project scope, resources, and opportunities, then you are right on track.
Drafting a project charter can be slightly difficult for someone oblivious of the processes of creating any project-related document. However, there are project charter templates to serve as a guide for anyone who does not want to go through the rigorous process of drafting one from scratch.
Here is a guide you can use when filling your project charter:
- Project Name – Best to come up with a relevant and relatable name that is still a bit more specific. Ensure you do not give a name that will not reflect what you are working on in search of specificity.
- Project Scope and Objectives – Talk about the volume of the project and the objectives that are driving the team throughout the project execution.
- Budget – The budget is the estimated cost of the project management. This section reveals how much will be spent in total from project initiation to project closure.
- Project Deliverables – What product or service will be offered when the project is successfully executed?
- Risks and Threats – What are the potential threats that the team might likely face during project management?
- Milestones and Deadlines – How many milestones are expected to be crossed before the result? What are the deadlines to meet per phase and what is the final project expiration date?
- Project Stakeholders – Who are the people involved in the project's execution right from the first stage to the final stage?
- Team Duties – Talk about the specific roles of each member in the project team starting from the project managers and executives to the other members.
There are online chart software tools such as Gantt chart software for project management that give you an overview of how your project charter should look. You can also use that as a guide when drafting your project charter.
When you have your project charter ready, you can write out the strategies you want to use to execute the project. If you draft out your project charter very well, it can also serve as a template for other upcoming projects in the future. By that time, you do not need to search endlessly for project charter templates online.
4. Identify Stakeholders and Create a Stakeholder Register
Effective communication is a key feature of successful project execution. This skill is virtually needed in every phase of the project management life cycle, more importantly during execution. Effective communication is largely part of a project manager's goals when associating with project stakeholders.
Project stakeholders are people that can influence or be influenced by a project. As a project manager, it is paramount for you to converse often with them, listen to their suggestions, share your ideas and opinions with them, and debate constructively to pick the best approach to any step the team wants to take.
These project stakeholders can either be internal staff such as members of the board of executives or external such as clients and sponsors. Each type of project stakeholder has its communication channels and requirements. Trying to swap one for the other might not develop effective communication between managers and stakeholders.
The project manager has to provide a means of communication for effective rapport with stakeholders. Sometimes, stakeholders' interests can influence the channel of communication the project manager provides.
A good way to maintain this is to create a stakeholder register. The stakeholder register/map is a document that shows the frequency and means of communication for every stakeholder according to their level of influence and interest in a project.
For some large companies, there are management offices where the project team houses the communication infrastructure. The channels are monitored by someone in that field of expertise so that communication issues like packet loss can easily be attended without any delay or calls for external help.
However, proper set-up of the communication infrastructure minimizes the issues you might have to face during communication.
5. Assemble the Team and Establish a Project Office
There is nothing called a project without a project team. A project team is a group of people that come together with common goals in mind to execute a project in a company. Assembling a team and assigning the necessary responsibilities and tasks to each member is a vital process under the initiation phase.
Drafting out tasks at an early stage prepares each member of the team ahead of the commencement of operational activities. This also helps to facilitate accountability in such a way that every member knows what to do when to do it and how to go about it.
As a project manager, drafting out tasks at an early stage relieves you of unnecessary stress during project management. You can monitor the project team by requesting timely reports after crossing every milestone. Document these timely reports for future reference purposes and also access information when doing an overview at the end of project management.
You can design a chart that indicates the professional details and work experiences of each member. The chart tells you if every member is experienced to take up whatever roles assigned to them.
Also, if you have not arranged the team, the skills and work experiences can tell you the right person for each role. You should also set up the project management office.
The project management office handles every infrastructure related to communication, planning, execution, and documentation. This office should also be available to attend to any issue that arises at any point during project execution. For security purposes, only authorized personnel should be allowed into the office.
6. Review and Close the Planning Phase
This phase is the final stage where you go over everything you have prepared from the business case to the project stakeholder register. Make it a habit to review every step you outline when trying to execute a project. Doing this has proven to help project managers discover some information omitted or some steps missed.
Especially for the initiation stage, every little mistake you make can jeopardize the whole project plan. During this step, you can finally confirm if the project requirements for the initiation phase have been met. Also, create plans for scope creep situations that may arise after the project has started to avoid frustrations and losses.
Reviewing project plans is one good way to monitor the project's progress and efficiency. Doing this reveals the aspects that still need finishing touches or extra effort. This stage involves dotting your I's and crossing your T's. Do it carefully so all loose ends are fixed.
Of all the steps involved in the initiation phase, the risks or threats plan is one vital section you should review over and over again. The reason is that the knowledge you have gathered after planning for constraints can open your mind to a better angle of approaching any issue if they arise later in the project management life cycle.
Overall, it is best to do your checks after finishing a phase so that you can fix up any missing points.
Kickstart Your Projects with a Project Management Tool
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Affordable Visual Project Management Platform that Provides You with Extended Cost and Finance Management Features
Scoro is a project management software dedicated to meeting the project management needs of professional service firms through features that additionally cut across quoting and automated time billing.
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