Project Initiation: Getting a Project Started

Project initiation is the first phase of the basic project management process

On the page, “The Basic Project Management Process” I introduced project initiation as the first step of the basic project management process.

Project initiation is where all the preparation is done so that a project can be started. In some organizations, starting a project can be a simple matter of having a line manager say “Yes, go and complete that job for me.” In organizations which take project management a little more seriously, project initiation requires a little more work.

The two major tasks during project initiation are:

  • Clarify the goals of the project
  • Get the project on the list of formally recognized projects


Project Initiation: Clarifying the Goals of the Project

An idea - the basic requirement for project initiation
Any project will start with an idea…

Any project starts off as an idea. At first, this idea may be quite vague. Even if the final goal is clear, it may not be clear who will be affected or who will need to be involved. If the project is going to be successful, then a clear idea of the project goal will be needed.

You would not believe the trouble that a project can get into if the overall goal of the project is not clear at the start of the project!

Here is a short, simple project initiation checklist that you can use to see if your project goals are clear:

  • Can the goal be communicated easily?

Everyone working on the project team will need to have the same understanding of what the overall goal of the project is. In addition, it can be very helpful in winning support for the project if the goal can be explained in a way so that the benefit is obvious.

  • Are the exit criteria for the project clearly defined?

This is particularly important if different people involved in the project could have a different view of when the project is complete. I frequently see issues with projects where a task was not clearly defined at the start. The customer expects the world, and the supplier delivers a rock. Normally, both interpretations are valid from the project scope. This situation almost always ends with both parties being unhappy when the project closes.

  • Has a clear time frame been defined?

In other words, is the start and end date clear?

  • Has the quality of the project result been defined in a way so that it can be objectively measured?

Confirming that the final results meet the required project can suddenly become a  problem when the project is being closed. If the project quality is questioned, how do you show that the quality is OK? Agreeing on quality measures at the start of the project will make closing the project much easier.

If all of these questions can be answered with a “yes”, then the project goal is almost certainly clear enough.

Project Initiation: Formally Starting the Project

The organization will need to know which projects are active. Management will want to know about the risk profile, the costs, the resources, and the benefits that the active projects will bring.

Many organizations provide quite a lot of additional support to their project teams, to make sure that the projects complete successfully. In order to access that support, the organization needs to know that the project is being started, what the goal is and what stage the project is currently in.

Formally registering a project is likely to be a relatively simple process. However, every organization will do that in a slightly different way. The most important step will be to tell the PMO (Project Management Office) that the project is starting. A cost code or project code may also need to be allocated. Not much more should be necessary at this stage.

The next page, “Project Planning: Will the Project Create Value?“, describes the next phase of the basic project management process. Project Planning.