How to set your project in motion with the initiation phase
In virtually all businesses and in all industries, a groundbreaking project starts with a simple idea.
That idea needs to be explored, planned, and executed in the best way possible in order for a successful project to start.
This is where the project initiation phase comes in.
In this quick guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know, from the concept of the initiation phase to the best practices and actionable steps your team can take right away.
What is a Project Initiation Phase?
There are five main phases of project management.
That very first phase is where the project begins.
The initiation phase is where we begin transforming the idea of a project into a more actionable target.
Essentially, this phase includes all of the steps that project managers and teams must take before the actual project itself is approved.
These processes will help add some definition to your project and tie in all the concepts involved into the business use case you would like to solve.
As this phase begins and a team is put together to make the project a reality, a business case is drafted to define the project in substantial detail.
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Writing a Business Case
A business case is a type of document that is used to explain to business owners and stakeholders the precise reason why this project should be launched.
This document will show how financial resources will be used and what the end goal will be.
A good business case should be easily edited and highly adaptable.
It should always accommodate in-depth descriptions of the size and risk of the overall proposal.
This document won’t dive into the technical side of the project, but rather the business needs and concerns of the project.
When drafting a business case, ensure that it is extremely easy to understand, relevant, and crystal clear on the facts.
Any statistics or key points should be adequately tracked and measured in order to justify their inclusion in the proposal.
Also, go into detail about accountability and responsibility of the team members involved in different aspects of the project.
A basic business case should include:
- A brief but informative preface.
- A table of contents.
- Executive briefing that describes the purpose of the project, the results, and why it should be considered.
- Introduction paragraphs that break down the project scope and financial risks.
- A detailed analysis that breaks down assumptions, costs, benefits, and risks with sources to back it up.
- A conclusion complete with the next steps in planning.
- An appendix section.
Keep in mind that your business case should always involve a customer or business need.
Investors will consider quite a few different things in terms of investing in a project or company, so it’s very important to make the use case clear and easy to understand.
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Feasibility Studies and Project Charters
Feasibility studies are wholly necessary for a project to get greenlit, mainly because stakeholders will ultimately determine if a project is feasible.
With the right proof, a project gets approved.
Determining feasibility is another important part of your project management initiation phase and should be included along with your business case.
This involves compiling data and proof of whether or not the project can be done in the way it is outlined in the business case, and presenting it in a way that is detailed and easy for stakeholders to understand.
Typically, feasibility is achieved by researching, creating studies, and testing.
After a thorough review of your business case and an explicit approval, it’s time to build your project charter or “project initiation document.”
This document will outline the purpose and needs of the project so that the initiation process can have a foundation for following project needs and company goals.
It will include things like business needs, important participants, stakeholders, overall scope, objectives, and goals.
This sounds very similar to a business case, but it’s more of a manual or map to follow in order to make the project successful, rather than a proposal to get it approved.
A project charter will be at least a few pages long and will usually include:
- Short description
- Background and history
- Goals and deliverables
- Overall scope
- Impact on other departments
- Team member roles and responsibilities
- Budget and financials
- Dependencies and risks
- Analytics, Measurements, and ROI
- Project approval
Get the Right Stakeholders Involved
From early on in your project’s timeline, it’s very important to have the ideal stakeholders involved.
Everyone is impacted by a project plan and outcome, and some stakeholders have more at stake than others.
Be as transparent as possible from the very beginning of the project and guarantee to your stakeholders that you have the right processes and resources to communicate with them regularly.
If you have rapport and transparency with your stakeholders, you’ll be less likely to face a pulled plug if you hit a roadblock at some point in the project.
So how does one get the “right” stakeholders involved and determine how much to reveal to them? It all comes down to a few factors:
- Determine which stakeholders have the most power over your project.
- Determine which stakeholders will be affected by project the most.
- Identify important individuals or entities that are involved in the project but may not necessarily be stakeholders.
- Determine who is in control of valuable project resources.
- Identify the motivations and needs of your stakeholders.
From here, you can decide who needs to be regularly informed and who doesn’t need much contact.
Additional Tips and Best Practices for Your Project Management Initiation Phase
A project management initiation phase will vary from business to business, but we’ve found that these tips and best practices are universally helpful:
- Always document your stakeholders’ commitments and needs.
- Ensure that resources are available.
- This is especially important for medium-sized businesses, as team members with special skills and financial availability may not be as feasible as one might think.
- Consider including a Statement of Work (SOW) with your project initiation document.
- This detailed document will break down the scope of work involved in the project and serve as a sort of contract or agreement between a business and a project manager over what is part of the project and what is not.
- Take special care to identify your key team members in the initiation phase.
- Getting the right team with the right skill sets involved this early will make identifying availability and resource provisions much easier.
- Establish the main mode of communication between your team and your key stakeholders.
- Communication outlets should be explicitly outlined in your project initiation document.
- In addition to the mode of communication, explicitly detail when and how frequently you will update different stakeholders on the project.
- Always launch an internal kick-offer meeting and then a stakeholder kick-off meeting at the very beginning of your project.
This provides an opportunity for everyone involved to get introduced and to talk about different project concerns such as risks, timing, dependencies, assumptions, etc.