Initiating a Project, the right way
Projects are temporary structures set up with the specific aim of delivering an identifiable end-product. Regardless of the type of project planned, and although each project will require its own unique processes and tasks, they all follow a similar framework. There’s always a beginning, a middle, and an end, and this is called the project lifecycle. The initiation phase is the first phase of the project management life cycle. This phase aims to outline the project, prepare a business case for it, and get it accepted. Project initiation ensures that we lay a strong foundation for a new project.
It is at the Project initiation stage where the opportunity or reason for the project is identified, and a project is developed to take advantage of that opportunity. At the end of this phase, the project manager should have a high-level understanding of the purpose, goals, requirements, and risks of the project. Of course, there are many steps in the successful execution of a project, but project initiation is the first and the most important step. If we get the project initiation right, we’re on our way to completing the whole project on time and within budget.
Therefore, this article aims to discuss the concept and significance of the project initiation process, including developing a project charter, a project scope statement, and identifying project stakeholders, project deliverables, and other activities undertaken during the initiation phase. The paper also highlights the Project Management Processes.
A project is a unique effort to produce a set of results within a specified time, cost, and quality constraints”. Projects differ from standard business operational activities as they: (i) Are unique. They do not involve repetitive processes, (ii) Have a defined timescale, (ii) Have an approved budget, (iv) Have limited resources, (v) Involve an element of risk, and (vi) Achieve beneficial change. The purpose of a project is typically to improve an organization through implementing business change.
Project Management comprises the skills, that is, Specialist knowledge, skills, and experience are required to reduce the level of risk within a project and thereby enhance its likelihood of success. The tools which are Various types of tools used by project managers to improve their chances of success, including document templates, registers, planning software, audit checklists, and review forms, and the processes that are Various management techniques and processes required to monitor and control time, cost, quality, and scope on projects, like time management, cost management, quality management, change management, risk management, and issue management.
Regardless of the type of project planning, every project goes through the same stages. Although each project requires its own unique processes and tasks, they all follow a similar framework, and there is always a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is called the project lifecycle.
1-Project Management Processes
A process is a series of interrelated actions and activities performed to achieve a predetermined product, result, or service. Each process is characterized by its inputs, the applicable tools and techniques, and the resulting outputs.
The project lifecycle describes the tasks that must be completed to produce a product or service. There are different project life cycles for specific products and services. (For example, the life- cycle followed to build a house is very different from the lifecycle followed to develop a software package). The project management Process defines how to manage a project. It will always be the same, regardless of the employed project lifecycle. Regardless of the project management methodology or framework used, every project follows the same life cycle. The project life cycle guides project managers and teams on how to move projects from initiation to closure. The project life cycle describes the high-level process of delivering a project and the steps we take to make things happen. It’s how projects happen; how the phases of a project conduct a team from brief through to delivery. The PMBOK Guide describes the nature of project management processes in terms of the integration between the processes, their interactions, and the purposes they serve. Project management processes are grouped into five categories known as Project Management Process Groups (or Process Groups): These five process groups are: Initiating Process Group, Planning Process Group, Executing Process Group, Monitoring and Controlling
Process Group, and Closing Process Group.
Figure 1- Project Management Process Groups
Source- A guide to the project management body of knowledge
Project Management Process Groups are linked by the results they produce. The Process
Groups are rarely discrete or one-time events; they are overlapping activities that occur throughout the project. The output of one process usually becomes an input to another process or is a project deliverable. The Planning Process Group provides the Execution Process Group with the project management plan and project documents. As the project progresses, it usually includes updates to the project management plan and documents.
A Process Group includes the constituent project management processes linked by the respective inputs and outputs where the result or outcome of one process becomes the input to another. Although no two projects are exactly alike, all projects must go through the same five project management phases. The processes are guides designed to help us focus on what needs to be done at particular points in a project, phase, sub-phase, or work package.
Project Origination or ‘Enter phase’
Before a project can be selected for initiation, a persuasive case must be made for its viability, given current organizational priorities. While Developing the Project Proposal, the initial Business Case for the project is formulated, and all information required for project selection is formalized in the Proposed Solution. A proposal for a project can come from anywhere in the executing organization. Still, someone must be identified as the ‘owner’ of the proposal and serve as Project Sponsor, at least during the evaluation and selection process. The Project Sponsor can be in executive management, in a specific functional program area, or a representative of the Customers or the Consumers within the Performing Organization. The purpose of the Project Origination Phase is to evaluate projects proposed for the next planning cycle and to reach a consensus on the projects to be selected. In this phase, the robustness of a project’s Business Case is tested, and the feasibility of the proposed solution is examined. It is determined whether the project is in line with the agency’s strategic plan and whether it is affordable within budget guidelines. The three major processes in the ‘Start Project Phase’ are:
1.1. Develop a Project Proposal, where the initial Business Case is carried out, and the initial parameters of the project are defined. The Business Case is one of the defining documents of the project, providing information necessary to support the decision to launch the project at the end of Project Origination and to continue the project in subsequent phases;
1.2. Evaluate Project Proposals, in which cost/benefit analysis is carried out, and the projects are evaluated against established particular business criteria; and
1.3. Select Projects, where a consensus is reached on the project’s feasibility and relative importance in contrast to the other proposed projects, and a choice is formally made regarding the Project Proposal.
As a Project Manager is not commonly assigned to the project at this time, members of the
Performing Organization Management prepare and review Project Origination deliverables. Selecting the wrong project is costly, and sometimes devastating mistake that many organizations make. Success in starting a project phase is receiving permission to proceed on the proposed project and understanding the executive decision, which often results in a greater understanding of the organization’s mission.
The deliverable that terminates the project origination stage and opens the initiation stage is the project decision document by the Performing Organization Management to assign organizational resources for developing the project further and move to the following phases of project initiation and detailed planning. Moving into Project Initiation before the project has received approval through the project selection process can lead to wasted time and resources, especially if the project is not ultimately approved.
Making the Business Case
The primary purpose of starting a business venture is to create wealth. This is done by creating products or services and selling them to customers who need them. In working on a Business Case, we will be forced to think about how we will do that. Preparing a written Business Case or Business Opportunity Document helps convince us that the idea is worth pursuing. If we have more than one great idea, it helps us determine which one is most deserving of your time and effort.
All projects need an initial business case before they can be properly initiated. The business case is the document produced to illustrate the cost-benefit and required investment the organization would need to undertake for the project to go ahead.
During this project initiation phase, we also decide whether delivering the business case is feasible. Once we secure acceptance from key stakeholders and prove that the project is feasible, we then move on to the project planning phase. That’s when we define the specific objectives, deliverables, and project roadmap in more detail.
Making the Business Case will get us started on the path to success. In making the Business Case, we will have done two of the three tasks that will take us there, i.e., The value proposition and the Business Model (Will it make money). The third one is execution which will be dealt with in the Planning & Executing Process Group.
The significance and outcomes of the project initiation phase
Starting a new project is exciting, but it’s essential to make sure our initiative will add value before jumping into the planning phase. That’s where project initiation comes in. It offers a structured approach to demonstrate the project’s business case and prove that the work we’ll do is feasible. Project initiation also ensures that we loop in stakeholders early on. This allows us to secure vital resources, gain visibility for our project and avoid costly roadblocks. It is important to note that inappropriate project initiation is one of the common causes of Project failure.
Finalizing this stage should give all stakeholders confidence so that no one has to question why they are working on the project and what kind of challenges might lie ahead.
That is why the process requires reasonable time investment and determination for us to thoroughly examine all of its steps and get maximum value before entering the next phase. Finally, projects should be aligned with the organization's strategic direction. The project initiation process at the beginning of each project and the beginning of each phase helps to ensure this alignment throughout the project lifecycle.
2. Project Initiation Processes
The question of when a project begins can be difficult to answer. The initiation processes are supposed to start the project, but they seem part of what they are trying to start. For example, the business case is the document created to illustrate the cost benefit and required investment the organization should make for the project to move forward. The most important thing to remember about the initiation process is that it does
NOT involve starting work on creating any of the ‘products’ of the project. It's all about clarifying the project’s objectives and what it takes to achieve them.
Initiating Process Group are those processes executed to define a new project or a new phase of an existing project by gaining authorization to start the project or phase. The purpose of Project Initiation is to define and initial financial resources are committed, Identify the Internal and external stakeholders who will interact and influence the overall outcome of the project. If not already assigned; the project manager will be selected.
Once we have come up with an appealing new project idea, the approach to this first phase of project management lays a solid foundation for the essential activities to get started with the new project. The key purpose of the Initiating Process Group is to align the stakeholders’ expectations with the project’s purpose, give them visibility about the scope and objectives, and show how their participation in the project and its associated phases can ensure that their expectations are achieved.
Initiation processes can be performed at the organizational, program, or portfolio level and would therefore be outside the control level of the project. With the business case in hand and an understanding of what is possible within the confines of the organization, the project initiation process can begin. This includes developing a project charter, a project scope statement, and identifying project stakeholders.
(I)- Developing a project charter
Developing a Project Charter is the process of developing a document that formally authorizes a project or a phase and documenting initial requirements that fulfil the stakeholders’ needs and anticipations. It establishes a partnership between the performing organization and the requesting organization (or customer, in the case of external projects).
The project charter is perhaps the most comprehensive and vital part of the project initiation process. A project charter is a formal, typically short document that describes the project in its entirety, including what the objectives are, how it will be carried out, and who the stakeholders are. It is a crucial ingredient in project planing because it is used throughout the project lifecycle. A clearly defined project charter defines the goals of the project, which in turn dictate the overall organization, schedule, staffing, and ultimately, the work to be done. The initiator or sponsor of the project must be at a level appropriate to fund the project. They will either create the project charter or delegate that duty to the project manager. The initiator’s signature on the charter authorizes the project. Projects are authorized due to internal business needs or external influences. This usually triggers the creation of a needs analysis, business case, or description of the situation the project will address. Chartering a project links the project to the strategy and ongoing work of the organization.
The Project Charter is considered the most important document of any project as it comprises: Business vision and mission; Project goals and benefits; List of stakeholders; Scope of the Project; Project deliverables; Risks associated with the project; and Project budget and resources.
The completion of this process is marked by the Project Kick-off Meeting, in which the
Project Manager presents the Project Charter.
(A)-Inputs to Develop Project Charter
In this phase, a business problem (or opportunity) is identified, and a business case is defined that offers multiple options for solving it. A feasibility study is then conducted to investigate the likelihood of each solution option addressing the business problem, and a final recommended solution is put forward. Once the recommended solution is approved, a project is initiated to provide the approved solution. A ‘Project Charter’ is created outlining the new project's goals, scope, and structure, and a Project Manager is appointed. The project manager starts recruiting a project team and sets up a project office environment. Approval is then sought to move into the detailed planning phase.
A.1-Project Statement of Work-
A statement of work (SOW) is a formal document that defines the work activities, deliverables, and schedule a supplier must perform to perform specific work for a client. For internal projects, the project initiator or sponsor provides the statement of work based on the business needs, product, or service requirements. In the case of external projects, the statement of work can be received from the customer as part of a bid document, for example, a request for proposal, request for information, bid request, or as part of a contract. The SOW references:
1.4. Business need. An organization’s business needs may be based on market demand, technological advances, legal requirements, or government regulation.
1.5. Product scope description. It documents the product features that are used to create the project. The description should also document the relationship between
the products or services created, and the business needs the project will address.
1.6. Strategic plan. The strategic plan documents the organization’s strategic goals.
Therefore, all projects should be aligned with the strategic plan.
A.2-Develop Business Case
A business case is used to explain the reason for starting a project. Before embarking on a project, it is necessary to understand that there will be a benefit either in terms of money, service, or both. The document that sets out the main advantages and parameters of the project is called the business case and is (or should be) produced by either the client or the project sponsor, who in effect becomes the document's owner.
The business case or similar document provides the necessary information from an economic perspective to determine whether or not the project is worth the required investment.
The business need and cost-benefit analysis are typically contained in the business case to justify the project. In the case of external projects, the requesting organization or customer can write the business case. The business case is created as a result of one or more of the following: Market demand, Organizational need, Customer request, Technological advance, Legal requirement, Ecological impacts, or Social need.
The project charter incorporates the appropriate information for the project from the business documents.
A-3-Perform Feasibility Study
Once the business case has been approved, the next step is to conduct a feasibility study that documents possible solutions to the business opportunity or problem the project is designed to address. It leads us to the right way to approach the project.
A feasibility study examines the opportunity and documents what is required to complete a successful project. It will also identify any other solutions, if available. Risks and issues are outlined at this time, as well as what the proposed solution to each will be if they occur.
A-4-The Project Sponsor
The business case has to be prepared before the project can be started. Indeed, the business case is the first document to be submitted to the directorate of an organization to enable this body to discuss the purpose and virtues of the project before making any financial commitments. Therefore, it follows that the person responsible for producing the business case cannot normally be the project manager but must be someone who has a direct interest in the project going ahead. This person is often a director of the client’s organization with a special brief to oversee the project and is the project sponsor. The role of the project sponsor is far more significant than being the initiator or champion of the project. Depending on the project's value, size, and complexity, the sponsor is a key player who, as a leader and mentor, can significantly assist the project manager in meeting all the project’s objectives and KPIs.
Agreements are used to define initial intentions for a project. Agreements can take the form of contracts, memorandums of understanding (MOUs), service level agreements (SLA), letters of agreement, letters of intent, verbal agreements, emails, or other written agreements.
Typically, a contract is used when a project is being performed for an external customer.
A.6-Enterprise Environmental Factors-
The enterprise environmental factors that can influence the Develop Project Charter process include:
1.Governmental or industry standards,
- Organization infrastructure, and
- Marketplace conditions.
A.7-Organizational Process Assets-
The organizational process assets that can influence the Develop Project Charter process include:
1.Organizational standard processes, policies, and standardized process definitions for use in the organization;
- Templates (e.g., project charter template); and
- Historical information and lessons learned knowledge base.
A.8- Assembling the team and establishing a project office
Setting up the right team is crucial to project success. No project can be started without a project team. Assembling a working project team and assigning them roles and responsibilities is vital to the project initiation phase. Assigning roles and responsibilities early on also increases the overall accountability of the entire team. It can help you as a manager in the later phases of the project life cycle.
Once the team is in place, conduct an internal kick-off meeting to explain the objectives and assign roles and responsibilities to each team member.
(B)-Outputs of Developing a project charter
B.1-Establish Project Charter
The project charter documents the business needs, current understanding of the customer’s needs, and the new product, service, or result that it is intended to satisfy, such as:
1.4. Project purpose or justification,
1.5. Measurable project objectives and related success criteria,
1.6. High-level requirements,
1.7. High-level project description,
1.8. High-level risks,
1.9. Summary milestone schedule,
1.10. Summary budget,
1.11. Project approval requirements (what constitutes project success, who decides the project is successful, and who signs off on the project),
1.12. Assigned project manager, responsibility, and authority level, and
1.13. Name and authority of the sponsor authorizing the project charter.
(II)- Identify and Develop the Project Scope Statement
A scope statement is a document that defines all the elements of the project scope, as well as the assumptions, project requirements, and acceptance criteria. A project scope statement is part of the scope management plan, a larger document that contains all the strategies, rules, and procedures to manage the project scope. A scope statement should be written before the statement of work and should capture, in very broad terms, the project's product.
Identifying the project scope involves defining the project’s length, breadth, and depth On the other hand, it is just as important to outline functions, time limits, tasks, f characteristics, and achievements.
The project's scope is the work that must be done to deliver a product, service, or result with the specified features and functions. Scope refers to the detailed set of deliverables or elements of a project; these deliverables are derived from a project’s requirements.
Identifying the Project Scope is the process of developing a detailed description of the project and product. So while collecting the requirement list, all the different requirements of the project and the resulting product or service are defined. The definition of the scope should include Project goals and objectives, Tasks in the project, Resources, Budget, and Schedule, etc.
Scope statement: A scope statement is an agreement that defines the work of the project and the customer’s business objectives. Defining scope, which is the heart of the initiation phase.
The key to managing scope is a carefully crafted statement that must be clear and precise. Writing a scope statement is a major part of the initiation phase. When scope is poorly defined, what is or isn’t within the project scope is reduced to a matter of perspective, which can often be the root of conflicts within a project.
It can help us to identify changes in scope after the project has started and help you plan for any modifications or adjustments that might be needed as it progresses. The first draft of this document/statement is known as a baseline scope statement. It should detail Project stakeholders, Project goals and objectives, Project requirements, Project deliverables, Milestones, and Cost estimates.
Irrespective of the size of the project, the scope is critical in project management because of its impact on time, cost, and quality. Accordingly, it should be specified as early as possible, although this will be subject to agreed changes later.
(III)- Identify the Project Deliverable
Upon identifying the project scope, the next step is to outline the project deliverables. Project deliverables relate to any tangible or intangible outputs submitted within the scope of a project. Project deliverables should be agreed upon early in the planning phase to properly set expectations and allocate resources and documented within a governing project charter so they can be referenced throughout the project.
Project deliverables can be classified as either internal or external. It all depends on whether they will be submitted internally to your own company or externally to a client’s organization. Moreover, Project deliverables can further be classified as either process deliverables or product deliverables, depending on whether or not they will directly satisfy one or more project requirements.
Process deliverables are intermediate outputs that move a project forward without directly satisfying a project requirement. This could look like: Internal bug report to improve a software deliverable, an Internal Gantt chart to inform the project workflow, an Internal client on-boarding checklist for a better project kick-off, and an Initial design project management plan for clients to review, etc.
Product deliverables are final outputs that directly satisfy one or more of the project requirements. These are a bit more exciting. They represent milestones that everybody is eager to review and weigh in on. They include things like: Complete content strategy,
Finalized architectural blueprint, etc.
(IV)- Identifying stakeholders and making a stakeholder register
Identifying stakeholders is the process of regularly identifying project stakeholders and analyzing and documenting relevant information about their interests, involvement, dependencies, influence, and potential impact on the project’s success. Identifying internal and external stakeholders in project management will allow us to better execute the project planning by ensuring every stakeholder is informed throughout the project and satisfied with the result. The involvement of key stakeholders can make or break a project. At the end of the day, our project will be a failure if the outcome doesn’t meet stakeholder expectations, even if we finish within budget and on time. For this reason, a stakeholder management plan is an indispensable document. A stakeholder management plan is a written document that outlines how the project team plans to manage the goals and expectations of key stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle. Effective stakeholder management is critical to the success of a project. Key stakeholders often have control over project resources such as project funds, employees, materials, or knowledge critical to success.
Documentation of relevant information on stakeholders and their impact on the successful completion of the project is required.
Stakeholders are either directly involved in the project or have interests that may be affected by the project’s outcome. It ussualy includes the members of a project team: project managers, project sponsors, executives, customers, or users. Project stakeholders can be classified into two types: Internal Stakeholders, who are the people involved in a project from within, and External Stakeholders. These stakeholders are not directly involved but are engaged from outside and are affected by the project outcome.
The stakeholder identification and engagement process should commence as soon as possible after the project charter has been approved, the project manager has been assigned, and the team begins to form to increase the chances of success.
(V)- Review the project initiation phase documents
After performing everything, it’s a good practice to review any process to make sure no steps are missed. This is especially true with the project initiation phase as it is so critical to the project's success. At this time, it is decided as to whether the project initiation requirements have been met. In later stages, we’ll continue reviewing every document and work as monitoring and controlling is one of the five phases of the project management life cycle.
Accordingly, the key activities or components to initiating a project the right way include:
1.1. Creating a business case- To establish the benefits and costs associated with the work to be performed;
1.2. Conducting a feasibility study- to identify project constraints, alternatives, and related assumptions;
1.3. Establishing a project charter- to provide formal authorization to perform the work and the authority to assign organizational resources to the work;
1.4. Identifying stakeholders and making a stakeholder register- to consider the perspective of anyone who may have a vested interest in the project or project outcome;
1.5. Assembling the team and establishing a project office- To identify personnel with the talents and skills to deliver the project; and
1.6. Project Kick-Off Meeting- Once the team is formed, it's time for the kickoff meeting to introduce the team and stakeholders and discuss everything that will guide the project to success.;
The literature and books referred to prepare this research paper have recognized that Successful completion of a project is not an easy endeavor. It calls for a series of tasks to meet stakeholder and client requirements. No matter what type of project we are working on, having comprehensive knowledge about the Project Management life cycle, project phases, or Project Management Process Groups is essential. The initiating process group determines the nature and scope of the project. Not performing this stage well means it's unlikely the project will meet the business' needs successfully. The project initiation process group consists of processes necessary to define a new project or a new phase of an existing project. Within the initiation phase, the business problem or opportunity is identified, a solution is defined, a project is formed, and a project team is appointed to build and deliver the solution to the customer.
Suppose the Project Management team is unable to implement the correct level of rigorousness early in the initiation stage. In that case, there will be a risk of misinterpretations preventing the achievement of stipulated benefits or requiring continuous adjustments, leading to harmful increases in terms of costs and time.
The first project document in the initiating phase is the project charter, and the key components of the project charter are: Business case, Scope and deliverables, Objectives, Resources needed, Milestone plan and timeline, Cost estimate, Risks and issues.
In summary, to successfully initiate a project, we need to look into the future, through the project’s entire life cycle, and anticipate the many issues we might have to deal with. Only then can we clearly define what success means for our project. It is essential to avoid a simplistic approach to initiation that assumes that we simply react to changing events as they occur rather than trying to anticipate them. Of the three constraints on project management scope, budget, and schedule, the scope is the most difficult to pin down. It takes a lot of effort to describe it clearly and in detail. During initiation, we need to define the project’s scope as clearly as possible and then refine it as the project unfolds and we learn more about the project and the customer’s needs.
Furthermore, Effective stakeholder management is critical to a project’s success. Key stakeholders often have control over project resources, such as project funds, employees, materials, or knowledge vital to its success. Therefore, to complete the project successfully, we have to manage all these stakeholders and fulfil their prospects. If we fail to do so, our project may get jeopardized.
Overall, the paper clarifies the elements of a project charter and explains its role in the initiation phase. It provides an overview of the project, along with the strategies required to attain desired results. This is the phase in which the feasibility and business value of the project are determined. Hence, skipping or avoiding this particular stage could be fatal.
Author: Kifle S. Sima
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