Project Initiation

The objective of a project initiation is to take the ideas and intentions of a group of people who see the need for a project in their organization and convert them into a formal, planned, resourced and funded project, in a way that :

  • clearly and explicitly defines the objectives and scope of the project,
  • develops an overall schedule of activities and resources (project plan) required to carry out the whole project,
  • develops a detailed schedule of activities and resources (stage plan) required to carry out the next stage of the project,
  • defines a project organization structure which can be used to effectively manage and carry out the necessary work,
  • establishes a convincing business case for the project,
  • gains commitment and approval to the project from the appropriate level of senior management,

so that:

  • the project is firmly set up for success, and
  • the probability of producing a high quality product on budget and on schedule is maximized.

At the start of any project, there will be a variety of ideas and opinions about the purpose and scope of the project, what the final product of the project will be, and how the project will be carried out. The Project Initiation Stage is concerned with taking these ideas and intentions and developing them into a formal, planned, resourced and funded project.

In order to define a project in this way, it is first necessary to clearly and explicitly define what the project is intended to achieve and what its scope of interest will be. By defining this first, a benchmark is created for assessing the quality of what is actually produced at the end of the project.

It is also necessary to develop a process by which the project objectives can be achieved. This process will typically involve carrying out a number of tasks and producing a number of products during the course of the project. The tasks produce the products. For clarity of purpose and for control reasons it is useful to arrange these tasks in a top down structure, which progressively specify the required work in more detail. This is called a work breakdown structure.

The Project Initiation Stage must also define what resources and associated time commitment are required to carry out the project. The work breakdown structure provides a basis from which this estimation can be carried out. The resource and time commitment can be used to calculate an end date for the project and an estimate of its cost. This information is key input into the establishment of a business case for the intended project.

The overall project schedule is not at a sufficient level of detail to enable the allocation of actual resources to tasks, or to control progress. It is necessary to produce a more detailed plan for these purposes. This detailed plan is only produced for the next stage of the project.

The way the project is managed and executed is the key to its success. The involvement of the right people for data capture and decision making is also crucial. It is necessary to identify and recruit these people at the start of the project and to define the project organization structure. It is also necessary to establish the procedures that will be used by the people in the Project Organization Structure to carry out and control the project work.

Finally, in order to establish a resourced and funded project, it is necessary to establish a clear and convincing business case for the project. This business case should be reviewed, and hopefully accepted by management and financers. The business case will identify the projected benefits of meeting the objectives of the project, and balance these against the costs and risks associated with realizing these benefits. The business case can also be used as a benchmark to compare against actual results, costs and benefits in order to assess the ultimate success of the project.

The Project Initiation stage is described here as a sequence of steps. In reality, once the objective and scope have been defined, many of these steps occur in parallel, and the step products are developed iteratively, since there are many dependencies between the steps. It is necessary to plan the Project Initiation stage, albeit in an informal manner. Therefore it is important to create a Project Initiation Kick Off Plan scheduling the activities and resources.

Regardless of size, all projects will need to address the factors described above. What will vary is how long it takes to execute, and the detail of the product. Project Initiation should be conducted in a relatively short timeframe when compared to the rest of the project. Small projects should take one or two days, whereas large may take several months. Small projects will produce a Project Initiation Checklist. Medium and large projects will produce a Project Initiation Report.

The Project Initiation Report is an overall plan for carrying out the whole project, and a more detailed plan for the next stage of the project. It consists of:

  • clearly defined objective,
  • clearly defined dimensions of scope,
  • overall schedule of activities for the project (project plan),
  • project organization,
  • clearly defined project control procedures to check and confirm quality, usage of resources, costs and time, manage change and track issues,
  • clearly stated business justification for the project,
  • project budget.

By properly completing the Project Initiation Stage, the chances of a successful conclusion of the project will significantly increase.

(Peter Frans – Principal Consultant

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