A Guide to Project Initiation
Every project starts with an idea. Delivering this idea successfully relies on a consistent approach to planning and execution.
There are many different project methodologies to use, depending on the project, company practices, and the team.
Regardless of the approach, most project teams will work through distinct phases of activity. The five phases, or process groups, of project management defined by the Project Management Institute (PMI) in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) is a common way to structure projects.
In this article, I’ll outline the five phases of a project – Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring/Controlling, and Closing – before exploring the Initiating Phase.
5 Phases of Project Management
This phase often begins with a business case, which outlines the objectives, purpose, and deliverables of the proposed project.
Stakeholders are identified and requirements are documented.
Key outputs include the project charter which assists with planning in Phase 2. In addition to explaining the business value of the project, the charter outlines the objectives, scope, resources, and budget for the project.
Any feasibility testing should also take place during this phase.
A comprehensive project plan is developed which outlines:
- Project costs and the budget
- Required deliverables and quality
- Measures of success
- Risk management plan.
The project is now ready to launch!
The project manager typically uses a kick-off meeting to introduce key tasks and milestones to the team, and discuss the project in detail.
The main activities associated with project execution include resource management, tracking work, team meetings, and reporting on progress.
The project manager should regularly assess progress to-date and adjust the original project plan as needed.
Monitoring is conducted in parallel with project execution.
Using KPIs and other metrics defined in the project plan, the project manager monitors progress and performance to avoid scope creep.
Once the project is completed, run a post-mortem to document lessons learned for future projects. It’s also important to recognize and celebrate success.
Finally, reassign resources and update project documentation, including any collaborative project sites.
Depending on the size and complexity of the project, you may need to tailor the five phases as appropriate.
Let’s look at the first phase, Initiating, in more detail.
Phase One: Initiating
The Initiating Phase is the foundation of the project.
During this stage, the project manager needs to:
- Establish the business case for the project.
- Ensure the project is aligned with the organization’s strategic goals.
- Prepare an initial budget and timeline.
- Pick a methodology for the project (Agile, Waterfall, etc).
- Select and assign the right team members.
- Involve relevant stakeholders.
Let’s take a closer look at these elements.
Project Business Case and Charter
A project typically starts with a business case, which explains the objectives, purpose, and deliverables (outputs) of the project. The document should clearly explain how the project aligns with the organization’s strategy and what business value is expected from the deliverables.
When documenting project deliverables, it’s vital to clarify what is required early on. Be sure to include details such as:
- What is the expected deliverable?
- What is the format of the deliverable (product or service)?
- What is the deadline?
- Who will maintain the deliverable once the project is completed?
- Is this project dependent on other projects and vice versa?
The document should also include potential risks and outline key resources needed to complete the project, including the team.
Approval processes vary from organization to organization. Be sure to double-check what’s needed with the project sponsor or the Project Management Office (PMO).
Once the project is approved, the business case will inform the project charter. This critical document defines the scope of the project, key requirements, budget, stakeholders, and success factors.
In some cases, the charter is used for project reporting.
The charter also acts as an input to Phase Two: Project Planning.
A methodology is a roadmap for the project, providing instructions and guidance to your team.
Picking a methodology ensures everyone knows what to do and when to do it. It also helps to standardize how work is completed, which makes tracking and reporting much easier!
There are several popular methodologies to choose from, such as PRINCE2, Critical Path Management, Waterfall, Agile, Scrum, Hybrid, and Kanban.
No method is better than another – it’s about the project and your team.
At BrightWork, we use the below spectrum to help our customers decide how much project management is needed.
As you can see, some projects require a lighter touch whilst others need more rigorous project management processes.
Without the right team members, with relevant skills and experience, your project could be on the path to disaster.
Think about the goal of the project and what skills are needed to meet these goals.
Depending on how resources are distributed within your organization, you may need to formally request that team members are assigned to your project.
Once the team is in place, run a kick-off meeting before any work starts. This will ensure everyone is on the same page, understands the goals of the project, and is clear about their role in delivering this objective.
At this stage, you’ll need to identify your project stakeholders.
A stakeholder is defined ‘as any person or group of people who have an interest in, can influence, or will be affected by any planned changes in an organization’.
Stakeholders can be categorized into the following groups, simplifying communication and engagement:
- High power, high interest
- High power, less interest
- Low power, high interest
- Low power, low interest.
Having identified relevant stakeholders, it is time to engage them! Winning the support of stakeholders early on is vital to project success – as is managing expectations.
Make sure stakeholders know what you will need from them, for example, timely feedback. Likewise, make time to gather, analyze, and clarify requirements before work starts.
It’s also a good idea to agree on a communication plan with your stakeholders, for example, sharing a weekly update via email or a fortnightly meeting.