Project initiation

As the words imply, 'project initiation' simply means starting a project. The reasons for having some methodology around starting a project are as follows:

  • To start a project as efficiently as possible, without reinventing the wheel each time

  • To apply lessons from the wider history of project management to minimize risk

  • To start the project with its end in mind, so that the project (especially the project manager and sponsor) know where it is going.

As a sponsor or project manager, ensure that you know who the project initiator is. The project initiator is the individual or group of people in your organization who has authority to authorize a new project. If you have been in your organization a long time or know it very well, then you will know who the initiator is, but if not, then ensuring that you are clear about who it is may save you much time and effort and avoid you expending effort and building the wrong relationships for getting your project signed off.

PMI says

Initiating processes

'Initiating Processes (Process Group). 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, programme, or portfolio of processes and those processes provide input to the project's initiating processes group.' PMBOK Guide (p.362)


Factors affecting the means of project initiation

How the project should be initiated depends on a number of factors besides lessons from the history of project management and general best practice. There are factors that will vary from project to project. These include the following:

  • Whether the project meets a business[6] (or other) need of the organization, or whether it is a risky and speculative project.

  • Whether there is only one possible approach to the project or whether there are many possible approaches from which one approach will have to be selected.

  • The level of risk in the project.

  • The size of the project.

  • Whether the project team knows the organization and has experience of the kind of work to be undertaken by the project.

Figure 4.5 shows the effects of the initiating processes.

Figure 4.5. Project initiation, before and after


Understand, document and communicate planning assumptions

Assumption and limiting factors, such as time, cost or resource, must be recorded so that the project manager can manage changes in them. Write them down! A simple way to do this is in a spreadsheet or word processor document: have a simple list of what the assumption is, the date, and for each assumption the main consequences if the assumption is wrong.

Do not think that you will remember changes in key assumptions. And even if you do, no one else will, if their interests and status are threatened by the fact that there has been a change. Write down the assumptions, and show the sponsor. In a large project or a bureaucratic organization, get the assumptions signed off. In the early stages of a project, that is in the initiation stage, it is not uncommon for assumptions about cost and scope factors to change significantly as a better understanding of them evolves. This is normal, but by writing down the assumptions, even if there is consensus that they are merely 'strawman' and are almost certainly wrong, you will protect yourself from being blamed for senior management not realizing that what started as 20,000 for a database is not 2,000,000. More positively than protecting yourself, sufficient a reason though it is, you will be helping key people to develop their understanding of the issues in the project, and quite possibly some key strategic issues facing the organization.

By documenting assumptions and factors early on, the nature of the project can be understood better by all involved. For example, if a project assumes that there will be six experienced middle managers available to join it next June, and before then a 10% headcount reduction is announced, there may no longer be the middle managers available next June, for example, which could have cost, time, risk and quality ramifications, and the time to manage those is as early as possible, not next June. But, to continue the example, if the availability of a few middle managers has not been documented as an assumption, then in the excitement of the headcount reduction its ramifications may get forgotten.

Key Idea

Insurance policy: document all assumptions

For the project manager personally, for their mental health and career, documenting all major assumptions, especially during the planning and initiation phase of a project, is like an insurance policy. It insures you, as project manager, against being a scapegoat when something changes in the world that affects the project. You can turn round and say 'Yes, X has changed, everyone knew that we planned and ran this project on the basis that X would not change, and that there would be major problems if it did'. Ideally this can be followed by 'You decided not to apply resources to planning or creating a contingency reserve for the event that X would change'. Being able to do this has saved many a project manager's career, and bonus.


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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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