Project Initiation: How to Start Your Project Off Right

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Great projects often start with great hopes and expectations. But if the project initiation phase isn’t successful, the project can drift off course and head for disaster. You must anchor your project at the outset by providing it with structure. Ideas are plentiful, but having a project plan and executing it allows you to actualize those hopes and ideas.

Of course, there are other project management phases, but project initiation is the first and often the most important step. With a strong project initiation phase, you’re on your way to completing the project on time and within budget.

What Is Project Initiation?

Project initiation is the first phase of a project’s life cycle. It’s at this point that the opportunity or reason for the project is identified and a project is developed to take advantage of that opportunity. It’s also during this stage when projects are approved or denied by key stakeholders, so you’ll need to conduct feasibility studies and a cost-benefit analysis to make sure the project has business value.

Project initiation is a busy project phase where you’ll need to do lots of planning and research so that your project idea turns into a reality. ProjectManager is project management software that offers multiple project views such as Gantt charts, kanban boards and project dashboards so you can keep track of risks, tasks, time and resources.

ProjectManager Gantt chart
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What’s the Importance of the Project Initiation Phase?

The project initiation phase is important for several reasons. The main reason is that during this stage, project managers assemble a project team and create project documentation to convince stakeholders of the project’s value. Once these project stakeholders decide to move forward with the project, the project management team can continue with the project planning, project execution and project monitoring phases until the project is completed. Projects simply can’t start without a proper project management initiation phase.

Project Initiation Documentation

As mentioned, project initiation documentation helps projects move from conception to reality. Here are the most commonly used project initiation documents to help you highlight the benefits of your project and build the underpinnings of your project plan.

It’s during this phase that a team is assembled and a business case is created to define the project in detail.

Business Case

A business case is used to explain the reason for starting a project. The business case shows how the use of financial and other resources supports a business’s needs. A business case will be adaptable, fitting the size and risk of the project proposal, but it’ll structurally be the same across projects. It deals not with technical issues, but with the business concerns of the project and it needs to be comprehensive.

Ideally, the business case should be easy to understand, logical and relevant. The key aspects need to be tracked, measured and justified. There also must be accountability and commitment for the delivery and costs involved.

The structure of a business case should follow as such:

  • Preface
  • Table of contents
  • Executive briefing, which includes what the project is, what the results of that project will be and why it should be undertaken
  • An introduction explaining the business drivers, the scope of the project and the financials
  • A preliminary cost estimation, such as a rough order of magnitude
  • Analysis with assumptions and what the costs and benefits will be, including risk
  • Conclusion noting what the next steps will be
  • Appendix

Project Charter

A project charter outlines the purpose of the project and how it’ll be structured and executed. In it, the vision, objectives, scope and deliverables for the project are detailed. Responsibilities for the project team and stakeholders are also described.

This next step helps to identify the project vision and objectives clearly. It defines the scope of the project and lists the deliverables.

The project charter also lists the roles and responsibilities of the project team and identifies the project’s customers and stakeholders. It’s at this point that the project is organized structurally, documenting the project plan and listing all risks, issues and assumptions.

Team Charter

A team charter is similar to a project charter, only that it focuses on the roles and responsibilities of a project team. The main purpose of this document is to help teams better understand how they can work together to achieve their objectives.

Project Initiation Document (PID)

A project initiation document is used when managing projects with a PRINCE2 framework. A project initiation document is used to define the project elements that need stakeholder approval such as the business case, scope, risks, success criteria and other important project initiation aspects.

Key Steps of the Project Initiation Phase

As stated above, the project initiation phase can be broken down into a few simple steps. Here are 5 project initiation steps to start most projects. Feel free to adjust this project initiation process to better fit your team’s needs.

1. Create Your Project Initiation Documents

As stated above, the project initiation documents are one of the main outcomes of this phase. With a project charter, business case, project initiation document and other supporting project documentation, you set your project up for success.

2. Conduct a Feasibility Study

Once the business case has been approved, the next step is taking a feasibility study, which documents potential solutions to the opportunity or business problem that the project is proposed to address. It directs you to the right way to approach the project.

A feasibility study researches the opportunity and documents what is required to complete a successful project. It will also identify any other solutions, if available. Risks and issues are outlined at this time, as well as what the proposed solution to each will be if they occur.

3. Assemble a Project Team

A project can’t be initiated without a team: this is a key part of project development. So, next comes the job descriptions for the people who will implement the project plan, including their objectives and responsibilities.

Creating a project team requires defining the roles of each member as clearly as possible to keep the work flowing smoothly. Begin by listing all the responsibilities for a position and who the person in that role will be reporting to.

Making a detailed organizational chart can help. By listing the skills and experience needed for each position, it’s easier to fill that position. It’s also helpful to note if there are any qualifications required. Of course, a performance criterion, salary and working conditions must also be defined.

4. Get Your Project Initiation Phase Approved

Review your project initiation documents to ensure no steps were missed before asking for stakeholder approval. It’s also important to look over the risks that have been identified and see if there’s anything missing. Check if your assumptions and constraints have changed before you move on to the next stage.

It’s only by starting a project right that you can end it successfully. By having a thorough project initiation phase, you clearly define the scope and build a great team to carry that project to a successful conclusion.

5. Get Your Team Ready with a Project Kickoff Meeting

After your project charter has been approved, you’ll need to have a project kickoff meeting with your project team and the project client. During this kickoff meeting, common goals and expectations will be set regarding the project scope, timeline and deliverables among other things. This guarantees a smooth transition to the project planning and execution phases.

6. Set Up the Project Management Office (PMO)

A project management office is a physical space in the office or worksite where the project manager and support staff are located during the project. It houses the communications infrastructure and whatever tech is needed for the project.

The first thing to do is figure out where the project office should be, and then make sure that the infrastructure is properly set up with the right PMO tools and equipment.

Now it’s time to outline the roles and responsibilities of those in the project office and determine the proper standards and processes. At this point, the project office can provide services to the projects under its care.

Project Management Templates to Help with the Project Initiation Phase

We’ve created dozens of project management templates to help you save time when producing your project initiation documentation. Here are a few of them.

Business Case Template

The business case is one of the main tools to show project stakeholders that your project’s benefits outweigh its potential risks or constraints. A good business case is fundamental to moving projects from ideas to completion.

Project Charter Template

The project charter is the initial step toward creating a fully developed project management plan. This template helps you gather important information to easily create a project charter.

Team Charter Template

A team charter helps project managers bring clarity to their team members as to how the team is structured and what their roles and responsibilities are, which is key to success in team management.

Project Roadmap Template

This project roadmap template helps you easily create a visual timeline that can be included as part of your project initiation documents. This is an easy way to quickly share your project timeline from a high-level view.

Using ProjectManager Beyond Project Initiation

Now that you’ve finished the project initiation phase, it’s time to make your project plan. Try ProjectManager, our award-winning project management software. You’ll have access to a suite of powerful tools that can help you plan, track and report on projects.

Gantt Charts for Plans

Use our online Gantt charts to transition your project from the initiation to the planning phase. Map out your tasks and link tasks that have dependencies. Set deadlines and assign tasks to team members so everyone knows their project responsibilities. You can even add comments and attachments to the tasks so team members have everything they need to get started.

ProjectManager's Gantt chart with comment

Resource Management Tools to Keep the Project on Track

If a team member is out sick or overburdened, managers even have the power to reassign tasks and redistribute workload with the click of a button with our resource management tools. These powerful features help ensure that all the work you did in the initiation phases comes to fruition.

ProjectManager's workload chart

Related Content

There’s a lot to plan and monitor when initiating a project. An online project management software such as ProjectManager offers planning and tracking tools like Gantt charts, real-time dashboards and task lists to manage a project from initiation to closure. See how ProjectManager can help you with your projects by taking this free 30-day trial.

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