When a new project is about to begin, it’s tempting to dive in and start documenting scope and preparing a schedule. Wait! The project initiation phase is so important that many companies forget to consider best practices for project initiation. It’s crucial to setting the tone for a professionally-run project. Project management training courses cover this topic for a reason!
Below we cover 5 best practices for project initiation. This list is not exclusive, but it does cover the core elements to consider in this important project phase.
1. Confirm the objectives
One of the core things to get right in the project initiation phase is to confirm the objectives for the project. These can often be found in the business case.
If you don’t have a business case for your project (and why ever not?), then talk to senior leaders in the organization to gain some clarity on why the project is important, what they are hoping it will achieve and their goals for the project.
The objectives become the guiding force for project decisions. You can shape how the project evolves, what changes are approved and lots more simply by understanding the rationale for the work and why the project is happening.
2. Clarify the deliverables
The vision and objectives are important, and the next step is to take those and turn them into concrete deliverables.
Document what the project will deliver. Deliverables are outputs from the project work and could include, for example:
- A new process, documented and implemented
- New software tools installed
- Signed contracts
- Training materials created and distributed
- Communications materials created and circulated
- New facilities built
- New services designed, developed and brought into commission.
In this step, you are taking the overall objectives and decomposing them into consistent parts. This information forms the work breakdown structure, which in turn, shapes what work is actually done on the project.
3. Identify critical constraints
The initiation phase is a good time to identify critical project constraints. These feed into the Project Charter document, but also provide a compass for decision making on the project.
For example, if you are constrained by date, then you can make decisions that help you achieve that date. Perhaps you need to secure additional resources or spend more money to hit the deadline. You can take those decisions if you are confident that delivery date matters above all else.
Equally, perhaps cost is the driving factor, and you have a limited budget to achieve the change. Your decision making then becomes shaped by ensuring you get the best value for money. This could include using cheaper resources, accepting a lower quality standard for the final output, or taking longer to deliver in order to take advantage of cost-savings.
Talk to the project sponsor and/or customer to understand what factors they consider most important. Make sure you document the outcome of this discussion in case you need to refer back to it later.
Tip: Remember that priorities might change over the life of the project. You could start work knowing that the date is most important, and then find that quality emerges as the defining characteristic for the project. Be prepared to adapt and flex your approach based on the current position from the project’s leadership team.
4. Create the Project Charter
Creating the Project Charter is another essential step during project initiation. The Charter is a document that outlines the objectives and purpose for the project. It explains how the work will be approached, structured and delivered.
The objectives and deliverables will be documented in the Charter, along with the team organization structure and individual roles and responsibilities for key stakeholders. You’ll also find a full list of core people involved in the project, including those who make up the project board, customer representatives and suppliers.
The Charter also includes a list of initial project risks, issues, constraints, dependencies and assumptions. It really is a comprehensive view of the project as it stands at the beginning of the work – although of course all those things may change as the project progresses.
The purpose of the document is to formally commission the project and give the project manager the delegated authority from the sponsor to start the work.
Preparing a Charter can be quite a quick job if you already have a lot of the information. However, it is worth doing properly because the Charter becomes a document you rely on over the life of the project. It’s something the team will refer back to for clarity around the project scope and deliverables.
Use a document template to speed up creating a Charter. The more experience you have at creating them, the faster you will be able to pull the document together.
The Charter should be circulated for comment and approval. It becomes the written ‘contract’ between the project team, the customer and the project sponsor that sets out what is going to be delivered. The Charter provides a point of formal project authorization to continue.
5. Appoint the team
The next best practice for the project initiation phase is to appoint the team. You may already have a list of names in the Project Charter, although that could also simply list the resource types or skillsets required.
It’s now time to ensure that people fill those roles, or that named individuals are aware that they have been ‘volunteered’ on to the project team – you might be surprised at how often senior managers put forward names to work on a project but the message never gets through to the individual concerned.
Depending on the type of project, you might need to create job descriptions for the various individuals joining the project team. At the very least, you’ll want to talk to them about the contribution they can make, and get their input to the project scope and schedule plans.
A roles and responsibilities document is key here. It helps the whole team understand who is taking responsibility for what. The document might evolve as the scope becomes clearer and the work begins, but it provides a good starting point. The document also helps identify where areas of project work are not covered by the current resources, and helps avoid duplication of effort.
So that’s 5 best practices for project initiation. Take your time with the project initiation phase. Investing effort in setting up your project for success will always pay off.