The initiating process group

What is the initiating process group?

The initiating process group is all about getting the project started. 'Initiation' means getting the project started. It is about being able to give a firm, definite and completely unambiguous 'Yes!' answer to the question 'Has this project started?' and, just as importantly, to the two questions 'And do we know roughly what this project is aiming to achieve, and why?'. Just as the person who knows how will always work for the person who knows why, so a project which starts without a clear idea of why it exists will be at the mercy of many other projects and vested interest groups in the organization, and is likely to fail. It is no more than common sense to ensure that right at the start of a project, the project that is the sponsor and the project manager are clear about what the project is doing and why. The initiating process group is nothing more than applied common sense to enable you to answer these questions effectively and efficiently.

Table 3.1 shows three key differences to you as sponsor or project manager that result from doing initiation effectively.

Table 3.1. What initiation is, in terms of before and after project initiation
Before initiation After initiation
  • You may not be certain at a high level of what the project is and why it is being done.

  • You will have maybe not complete certainty but a clear idea for starters, so to speak, and if you are not certain, you will know what kinds of things you need to find out next to increase your certainty.

  • The project manager and the sponsor may have quite different ideas about the project from each other.

  • Either both will have roughly the same idea, or at least they will understand clearly where their ideas differ, and that the sponsor's idea is the more important of the two.

  • There is no written 'recognized picture'[3] of what the project is about that can be used as a general basis for communicating to others, especially selling the project and getting constructive feedback on its merits and possible approaches.

  • There is a 'recognized picture' of what the project is or might be, and how it will fit into the organization and create benefit, to serve as a basis for discussion across the organization.


PMI says

Initiating processes

'Initiating Processes (Process Groups). Those processes performed to authorize and define the scope of a new phase or project or that can result in the continuation of halted project work. A large number of initiating processes are typically done outside the project's scope of control by the organization, program or portfolio processes and these processes provide input to the project's initiating processes group.' PMBOK Guide (p.362)


What is the output of initiation?

The most important output is the Project Charter. This is also known as a Project Initiation Document (in PRINCE2) and the Project Brief (BS 6079). The other output is the Preliminary Scope Statement. The kind of information contained in the project charter is as follows, but given that initiation happens right at the start of a project (or phase) all this information is understood to be provisional, and subject to testing in the planning process group:

  • What exactly is this project going to do?

  • Why? What is the business case? (in outline.)

  • Who is going to do it? (This section of the charter should at least say who the sponsor is, and if possible the project manager. If these two appointments are not to be filled during project initiation, then the charter should say when they will be filled, and give in outline the type of skills and experience and seniority required of them.)

  • When?

A single page is often all that is needed for a project charter for small to medium-sized projects. The outputs therefore should be regarded as in 'strawman' form; that is, they should be understood, if not deliberately designed, to be in provisional form, and all who read them should understand that they are intended to change very much.

One of the uses for a project charter is as a basis on which management decides whether or not to proceed with a project. Acceptance by the performing organization of the project charter may also be the trigger to release money and resources at least for the first phase of the project.

Why is initiation important in project management?

Initiation is the most important process group, so we spend extra effort explaining it here. Initiate well and you can cope with much that is not quite right later on. Initiate badly and your project may never recover even if you excel at all the subsequent process groups. A project or phase that does not initiate effectively will carry for the rest of its duration a high risk of, at best, extra cost, and at worst, complete failure. This is simply logical common sense: if the project does not start with a clear idea of what it is doing and why, then it will either have to work out these things as it goes, that is to say, it will have to make up its reason for existence as it goes along, which is expensive and likely to damage the credibility of those involved, or it will never get adequate traction and resources in the organization to deliver anything.

How does initiation work? What are the inputs, tools and techniques? There are two processes within the initiating process group:

  • Develop project charter.

  • Develop preliminary project scope statement.

Producing a project charter or project initiation document is often no more than filling in a template, in terms of getting words onto paper. The charter is essentially no more than the What? Why? How? When? Who? of the project the 5 Ws[4]. However, the intellectual and conceptual tasks of answering these questions about the project can be as difficult and complicated as the questions themselves are simple. What exactly is it that the project is to do? And why what is the business case? Even though these questions need not be answered in detail in the initiation phase, be clear that the task of answering them can be a substantial one. While initiation for some projects is completely routine, and answering the questions will be simple and straightforward, in other projects it may be a major task.

Figure 3.4 gives a list of inputs to the two processes of the initiating group. The most important thing is to get a project charter, which is sometimes known as a project initiation document (PID). If you focus on one thing in initiation, focus on getting the charter. Focusing on that will help you also to work out what inputs you need and what tools and techniques to use to write the charter. The tools and techniques in this process group boil down to common sense and whatever management tools your organization uses for defining problems and producing papers.

Figure 3.4. The initiating process group

Work can start on the scope statement before the charter is complete, and for small or simple projects, the scope statement can be simply a paragraph or set of bullet points in the charter. However, scope is so critical in project management that even if the preliminary scope statement is to be combined within the charter, it should be a separate conceptual exercise. * For those doing the PMI's exams, note that the PMBOK methodology lists the inputs and outputs given in the diagrams above, but does not list the tools and techniques that we show here. Also, the PMBOK does not distinguish as we do here by means of broken-line ovals between the most important inputs and outputs


If feasible to do so, a key activity in initiation is to create a well-documented description of end-user requirements and derive a full project plan including timing, resources and costs. It is only once this information is available that a proper decision about whether to proceed with the project can be made.

For project managers, in the early stages of the project it will be useful to get into the habit of carrying the current version of the project charter wherever you go. Print it out and stick it to the inside cover of your daybook, so that you can refer to it if required during any conversation next to the coffee machine, or while you are walking around the team members' work areas. (Later in the project you can replace the charter with a Gantt chart or some other summary of the project plan.)

Who should be involved in initiation?

The sponsor and the project manager should definitely be involved in the initiation process group, although at times and in certain organizations one or both of these may not be appointed until after initiation. Sometimes a project or programme management office will handle initiation.

Once a broad need for a project has been identified, the project must be set up or initiated. Much of the setup work is done in some organizations by a project management office or some management structure other than the project itself, but at some point the project will need to start as a project in its own right. Initiation is about doing this, and how initiation works in your organization will define who in addition to the sponsor and project manager should be involved. Initiating a project does not mean starting work on creating the desired products of the project immediately; there is usually much to be done both in administrative tasks and in clarifying the project's objectives and what will be involved in achieving them. The initiating process group is about getting this administration and clarification started and to a useful point. Note that such work may also extend to the planning process group, but usually in a project there is a minimum amount of initiation that needs to be done before things can go further, before the real work can start this is initiation.

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Definitive Guide to Project Management. The Fast Track to Getting the Job Done on Time and on Budget
The Definitive Guide to Project Management: The fast track to getting the job done on time and on budget (2nd Edition)
ISBN: 0273710974
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2007
Pages: 217
Authors: Sebastian Nokes
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