Project Initiation Processes

The question of when a project actually starts can be a difficult one to answer. The initiation processes are supposed to start the project but they appear to be part of the very thing they are attempting to start. Take the business case for example, this is the document that is produced to illustrate the cost-benefit and required investment the organization would need to undertake for the project to go ahead. So, is the work needed to produce the business case part of the project or not?

This is really only a semantic problem and it could be argued that the project starts at the moment it is imagined, when the business case is approved, or at some other point; it really doesn't matter. In reality, what usually happens is that people who are working in their own department identify a possible solution to a business need. They then go on to examine the viability of that solution and in doing so produce a nascent business case. At some point enough people will become involved that the thing starts to be seen as a project. How this process happens or at what point the word 'project' is first used varies case by case.

Initiation Process

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 is concerned exclusively with clarifying the project's objectives and what will be needed to achieve them.

It should answer the following questions:

1) What is the project going to do?
2) What is the business case for doing it?
3) Who wants it done?
4) Where is the money coming from?
5) Who is going to manage the work?
6) Who is going to do the work?

Initiating Process Group

The answers to these questions may be more or less settled but there is usually still some room for uncertainty. For example, you may not know exactly what the project is going to do but you should have a sufficiently clear idea so that you can document what it could do in a way that can serve as a basis for discussion.

All projects need a business case before they can be properly initiated. The business case is the document that is produced to illustrate the cost-benefit and required investment the organization would need to undertake for the project to go ahead. The motivation for producing a business case usually comes from one of the following:
- Legal requirement
- Market- or customer-driven demand
- Organizational need
- Technological change

A good business case will demonstrate at least the following basic points -
• Why the project was initiated, and what problem it is intended to solve.
• The details of what process was involved in this project, and how it evolved from beginning to end.
• What resources are required to put the plan into action.
• The benefits of putting the plan into action, and the potential problems that could arise from not doing so.
• What specific next step is needed to get the project started.

Depending on the size of the project and the reporting requirements of the business, all of those points could be covered in as little as a couple pages, or it could take a binder full of material. The important part is that the manager lays out an argument that is well defended and needs no additional input from outside the case in order to be convincing. The business case should stand on its own feet, able to be read and understood even by someone with no prior knowledge of the project.

If project is being performed for an external customer then there may be agreed contracts, memorandums of understanding (MOUs), service level agreements, or a statement of work (SOW) that can be used to further define the business case. A statement of work (SOW) is a formal document that defines the work activities, deliverables, and timeline a vendor must execute in performance of specified work for a client. It usually includes detailed requirements and pricing, with standard regulatory and governance terms and conditions. It thus overlaps in concept with a contract, and indeed SOWs are often legally equivalent to contracts.

In addition, the organization's culture, infrastructure, personnel administration, and marketplace conditions all need to be considered because your company may have a limit on how many permanent staff can be assigned to a particular project or policies regarding the use of contract staff. There may also be guidelines for hiring, firing, and performance reviews.

With the business case in hand, and an understanding of what is possible within the constraints of the organization, the project initiation processes can begin. These include developing a project charter, a project scope statement and identifying project stakeholders. This involves the people who are going to be responsible for managing the project work including the project manager, the project sponsor, selected project team members, selected stakeholders, anyone with responsibility for any of the project management processes.

Collective decision-making is very important area of project management that can make or break this part of the project. If you feel as though your project meetings could be improved then you can download the 'Meeting Skills' eBooks from this website. These free eBooks cover all aspects of meetings including how to set an agenda that will ensure that the meeting achieves it's aims and how to chair a meeting so that it is as productive as possible.

Developing the Project Charter
The project charter provides the high-level project description and product characteristics. It also contains project approval requirements and will be completed by the sponsor or individual initiating the project.

Project Charter

There are a variety of inputs you will require for this process. They will be whatever you need to:
• Identify the high-level requirements
• Define and agree the high-level project scope
• Identify the project or stage objectives
• Define the project success criteria
• Identify and define any obvious milestones
• Define the approximate budget
• Ensure that the project is aligned with the organization's strategic goals

There are several key sections that you need to include in your project charter:
1. Contact points for key individuals of the project.
2. Project Purpose - the issue/problem to be solved by the project.
3. Business Objectives for the project as they relate to the organizations strategic plan.
4. Assumptions that have been made as part of the project.
5. Description of the project.
6. Definition of the project scope and the limits identified.
7. Overview of major milestones and deliverables for the project.
8. Project Authority - including an organization chart and definition of roles and responsibilities.
9. Resources required for the project including: costing, equipment, staffing, support, operational & IT facilities,
10. Signatures of the key project members that authorize the project.

When the project charter is first circulated it can attract additional sponsorship from other areas of the business that feel as though they would benefit from getting on board and increasing the scope of the project or it can sometimes be decided that the business case is not strong enough for the project to proceed.

The main objective here is to clarify the business need and define the scope of the project and show clearly that other options have been considered and that this project is the right choice along with the reasons why this is so.

The most important function of this document is that it ensures that everyone involved is in agreement about what the project is going to deliver and that no one has any false expectations. The document itself may only be a single page in the case of a small project and it should be made clear to everyone involved that it is subject to change in the planning phase.

You can find a project charter template on this website which can help you to produce this document or you may find that your organization has a template of its own that you will be expected to use.

Developing the Project Scope Statement
As well as the project charter (PID or Project Brief) it is a good idea to produce what is usually referred to as a project scope statement. Scope statements may take many forms depending on the type of project being implemented and the nature of the organization.

Project Scope Statement

The project scope statement details the project deliverables and describes the major objectives, including measurable success criteria for the project. A scope statement should be written before the statement of work and it should capture, in very broad terms, the product of the project.

For example, 'Developing a software-based system to capture and track customer orders.' It also specifies who is going to use the product and gives an estimate of the anticipated cost.

A scope statement is an agreement that defines the work of the project and the customer's business objectives. It can help you 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 referred to as a baseline scope statement and should detail:

1) Project stakeholders
2) Project goals and objectives
3) Project requirements
4) Project deliverables
5) What is out of scope
6) Milestones
7) Cost estimates

Work on the scope statement can begin before the project charter is completed and in the case of small projects it can be incorporated into the charter. However, irrespective of the size of the project, scope is absolutely critical in project management because of the impact it has on time, cost, and quality. Consequently, it must be specified as early as possible even though this will be subject to agreed changes later on.

Identifying the Project Stakeholders
This is the process that identifies people, groups, or organizations that could impact or be impacted by a decision, activity, or outcome of the project. It analyzes and documents their interests in and influence on the project. A stakeholder is defined as anyone with an interest in the project, irrespective of whether that interest is positive or negative. They may be individuals or organizations that are actively involved in the project, or whose interests may be affected by the execution or completion of the project.

Project Stakeholders

A stakeholder is anyone who is actively involved in the project, or whose interests may be positively or negatively affected by the performance or completion of the project and they can be:

1) Internal to the project.
2) External to the project, but internal to the performing of the organization.
3) External to both the project and the performing of organization.

This process is described in detail in the 'Managing a Project Team' eBook.

In summary, the aim of the initiation processes is to answer the questions 'what is this project trying to achieve and why?'

Outputs of the Project Initiation Phase

The most important output from this phase is a document that answers the questions:
• What is this project going to achieve?
• What is the business case for doing it?
• What is the timeframe involved?
• Who is going to sponsor it?
• Who is going to manage it?

The answers to these questions are provisional at this point in time and will be subject to revision when and if the project proceeds to the next phase. This document is known as the project charter, the project brief, or the project initiation document (PID) depending on the project management method being used.

Project Charter

If this phase is omitted or rushed then there may be misunderstandings that could cause serious problems when the project moves into the planning phase and the various people involved realize that their expectations are quite different. For example, a sponsor may think that the project will produce a working piece of software, while the members of the project team think they are developing a prototype to prove that the concept is feasible.

Remember, if the project does not begin with a clear idea of what it is setting out to achieve and why, then it will need to evolve these things as it progresses, which will always carry far more risk than doing it from the start.

You may also be interested in:
Project Management Processes | Project Initiation Processes | Project Planning Processes | Project Executing Processes | Project Monitoring and Controlling Processes | Project Change Control Processes | Project Closure Processes.

Key Points

  • The initiating process group consists of processes necessary to define a new project or a new phase of an existing project.
  • It involves obtaining authorization for the project or project phase.
  • It defines objectives, outcomes, and success criteria.
  • It assigns a project manager.
  • It allocates funds and resources.
  • The inputs to the charter are normally documented decisions, and can include: the contract where applicable, project statement of work (SOW), details of the organization's culture, guidelines, policies and procedures.
  • This is normally written by the project sponsor or whoever initiated the project. If the project is external then it will be written normally by the buyer.
  • Project stakeholders are individuals and organizations that are actively involved in the project, or whose interests may be affected as a result of project execution or project completion.
  • They may also exert influence over the project's objectives and outcomes. Examples of project stakeholders include: the customer, the user group, the project manager, the development team, the testers, etc.
  • The project management team must identify the stakeholders, determine their requirements and expectations.

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