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Key Processes During the Project Initiation

The initiation phase is a critical, initial step in the successful delivery of projects. Let's review the best practices in the industry regarding initiation phases, as well as the typical deliverables. This is the time to set the team and the project up for success in the subsequent phases.

Project failures occur frequently and there are specific failure modes. The Standish Report showed that over 70% of IT projects were either challenged or impaired. And by "challenged" I am referring to projects that were over budget, over schedule, or delivered with fewer than promised features or functions. Impaired projects are those projects that were canceled outright. The main problems I have encountered in my travels have roots in the initiation phase:

  • Lack of a Business Strategy - The results of a project effort must support the organization’s strategic goals and business strategy. The organization’s business strategy and strategic objectives should be used as a starting point for investment selection.

  • Lack of Stakeholder Support - Sometimes there is a recognized need for a project, but there is no one to champion the effort. People may or may not support a project for a variety of reasons. Management executives who control funding must have an interest in the project success. Top-level management buy-in must occur at the inception of the project and be visible throughout the life of the project.

  • Lack of Resources - Many resource problems relate to funding and assembling the resources needed to perform initiation activities. Locating people with the right skill set can be difficult, and the difficulty increases with project complexity. Funding for project initiation activities is often constrained or unavailable.

  • Lacks of Consensus on Project Objectives - The most difficult commitments to obtain are from customers and stakeholders. Frequently, there are many different ideas about what the project should include and what the project will develop. It is crucial to have concrete agreement on project objectives.

  • Lack of Coordinated Leadership - During the initiation phase, stakeholder coordination can be difficult. This is frequently the result of many individuals attempting to influence or lead the project at the same time. Such environments can create an atmosphere of faulty or disjointed decision-making.

Many of the issues that challenged project face can be traced back to improper planning in the initiation phase. A successful project is one that delivers expected results, and defining the expected results and providing the necessary processes and resources to achieve these results is the ultimate goal of the initiation phase. These key processes are:

Project Identification

The initiation phase answers a number of key questions for the project team and the organization. The first is how we identify of the project. While this may seem obvious, it helps define the boundaries around the project and differentiates the project from others in the organization. It includes the name of the project and the designated project manager. As well there should be a brief summary of the project purpose, scope, time frame and resources required.

Development of the project description statement is an essential and defining process in project initiation. What the project is to accomplish must be described in simple high-level terms at the beginning of the project. The statement should describe who the project is for, what must be done, and why it must be done. This statement is the foundation for defining the scope of the project.

To arrive at this statement, the project manager or team should perform an abbreviated analysis of the assigned project. The project description statement will: describe the general approach to development; describe the basic characteristics of the required product or service; identify the beneficiary; and, identify the purpose served by the product or service delivered.

Business Justification

Establishing the ultimate need or benefit of the project is an important question to answer during the initiation phase. The customer of the project is identifies as a unique stakeholder that would ultimately receive and benefit from the output of the project. They are the source of the need the project is intended to meet, either as a problem to solve or as an opportunity to exploit. The initiation phase should establish needs such as requirements, features, functions and the tangible and intangible benefits such as revenue growth, increased market share, cost savings or avoidance, or regulatory compliance.

Scope Statement

The product and project scope is defined at a high level to provide the bounding assumptions around the size and effort required for the planning and execution phases of the project. Product scope defines the characteristics of the product, service, or result of the project being undertaken, and project scope describes the projects deliverables and the work required to create those deliverables. This may not be completely defined at this stage, but enough detail is specified for further estimation and planning activities. Part of the definition of scope also includes the procedures to be used for making and documenting changes to the project. The Project Manager, along with the project team define the scope of the project and identify the preliminary budget, high-level schedule and quality standards to complete the project.

Project Methodology

The initiation phase should establish the overall project management approach being undertaken. The methodologies being employed and any relevant PMI or other standards that are to be used are established. The methodology provides the way in which the project will produce its objectives and deliverables.

As well a during the initiation phase you should develop Initial Project Plan, where the Project Manager and Project Team identify all Stakeholders and document their involvement in the project, develop means of communicating with them, and compile all documentation created during Project Initiation to produce the Initial Project Plan.

Stakeholder and Communication Strategy

A communication strategy is developed during the initiation phase to identify the communication required between the project stakeholders and the project team. A major component of the communication strategy is identification of the various project stakeholders. It can also provide the method and criteria for the project sponsor to accept the specified project deliverables as complete and adequate.

Risk Management

It includes an approach to identify and manage assumptions, constraints, and known risks which can be anticipated to have a major impact on the process and/or outcome of the project and which require decisions or actions by the project sponsor or team. At the initiation phase, risk management involves a high-level examination of what could go wrong as well as what opportunities could materialize. During the initiation phase the team should 1) identify potential risks, 2) assess their impact, and 3) develop strategy and tactics for dealing with them. What is important here is that there is a rational and acceptable plan for dealing with the risk associated with a project.

Project Costs

Finally, to support the project business case, the resources and costs associated with the delivery of the subsequent phases is assessed. This may include the financial, personnel, and material resources (such as facilities, equipment, supplies, and services). A completed initiation phase needs to provide the impact as well to provide the information needed to evaluate the project against competing demands in the organization.

Summary: Key Project Initiation Phase Deliverables

  • Project Charter – A document that provided the high level statement of work and scope description

  • Kickoff Meeting – A meeting to establish the project, introduce the objectives, define processes and set direction, and achieve buy-in and momentum amongst the project stakeholders

  • Project Repository – A central and accessible electronic store of the key project artifacts

  • Scope Statement – A document of the project and product scope, including requirements, deliverables, and binding assumptions

  • High Level Project Schedule – A roadmap of the key milestones and deliverables of the subsequent phases of the project

  • Quality Management Plan – A plan for the management of the quality of the project, including change management, defect management, testing and quality assurance reviews

  • Preliminary Budget Estimate – A financial summary of the resources and costs associated with delivering the project

  • Risks and Impacts – The identified risks, probability and impact assessment, and mitigation strategy

  • Communications Plan – The types, methods, objectives, and frequency of communication vehicles that would be used by the various stakeholder groups

  • Description of Stakeholders – A listing of the various stakeholders and their drivers and objectives

  • Business Case – The business drivers and benefits for doing the project

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