Project Basics: Initiation
This is the first of a series of posts about project basics. Project initiation is the birth of a project. In this step, the goals are defined, and the basic overall output is described. While the initiation phase will likely be a small portion of the overall amount of time spent on the project, any lack of clarity in this phase can cause confusion and delays during execution. Therefore it’s important to initiate your projects properly.
The goal of project initiation is to lay out the goals and benefits in a project summary and get approval to begin work. This is done by determining what will be created and how much effort and time it will take. Given this information, leadership can decide whether to commit people and time to the project or not. A project should not start unless the benefits are worth the investment.
The most important part of project initiation is defining the mission. The mission describes why the project is being conducted in the first place. The mission should have concrete, measurable goals. These goals should reflect the benefits the project will bring. For example, if you are selling a new product, you may want to make a goal reflecting how much money it will make.
Sometimes projects are given to you to lead. In these cases, having a clear mission makes sure that you know what the expectations are. If you are the one proposing the project, then having a clear mission statement will help leadership understand what they will get out of their commitment.
Here are a few examples:
- Project Starbright will create a marketing campaign which sponsors 5 community influencers with unique website landing pages for each, which will generate a total of 1000 new user purchases from February 5th to March 5th.
- Project Bootstrap will overhaul the software build pipeline, reducing check in to artifact build times to 2 minutes or less by June 1st.
- Project Rally will create a recruiting campaign to hire 2 new engineers within 1 month.
Notice that each mission statement includes a project name. Giving the project a name sets it aside as a distinct body of work, and a clear identity to associate with. Next is the list of measurable benefits the project will create. Having such clear goals makes decisions about what needs to be included in the project and what should be excluded.
Having a time bound is also important. Keep in mind, however, the difference between arbitrary deadlines and hard deadlines. Sometimes, a project may not need to be done by a specific date, so an arbitrary date is given. However, after work is estimated, it may turn out that moving the project deadline makes sense. There are times when the end date is non negotiable, but it is important to know when it is and when it isn’t.
Once you know what the mission is, you then create a list of items that the project will create. These can be plans, videos, documentation, application features, and anything else that completes the mission. Creating this list gives everyone an idea of how much work it will take to complete the project’s objectives. It also ensures that you can get the right people and other resources you need. For example, if it’s clear you need to make a new web page, then you will need to have a web developer involved on the project. If there are legal agreements, then a lawyer will need to be involved. Without listing out the required items, it can be easy to miss necessary people.
Now that you have a list of items to be made, you can determine who needs to be involved in the project. Depending on who is available, you may need to come up with alternate strategies for completing your objective. There are 4 roles you will want to fill for each deliverable to be created:
- Owner: The person responsible for making sure the deliverable is completed on time. They might not directly work on the deliverable, but they are the one responsible.
- Worker: Sometimes referred to as inputs. These are the people who directly create the deliverables.
- Reviewer: A reviewer is someone who keeps track of overall progress.
- Sign Off: The person who signs off is the person who determines if a deliverable is complete or not. They will look at the requirements for their deliverable, and make sure it is meeting expectations.
Record all the people that need to be involved in the project. This way, people that need to approve the project will know what resources will be spent to execute the deliverables.
Once you have the above information, compile it into a single document. This is your project summary. The information in it will allow the project approvers to get a sense of what the benefits are, what will be produced, and the effort required. Some projects may stop here. Maybe the deliverables are harder to create than first imagined. In that case, it is better to not begin at all rather than pursue a disappointing goal.
However, if leadership does determine that the benefits are worth the cost, then the project can be approved and more detailed planning can proceed.
Once the project is approved, the project can move into the next phase, planning. Some details determined here may need to change based on what is discovered in the next step, but there by determining the goals and roughly estimating the cost, it’s possible to figure out if the project is worth planning out at all. While the initiation phase is relatively short compared to executing the project, doing it right makes the rest of the project easier.
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