Starting a new project can be very exciting but at the same time, you must do your due diligence well before time to ensure that you start with the right approach. At the start of a project, the amount of planning and work required can seem overwhelming. There can be hundreds of activities or tasks that need to be performed effectively in the right sequence.
It’s a fact that if you break down your project into different phases, it will be easier for you to handle the project activities and take the right steps to manage them efficiently.
Project Management Institute (PMI) divides the project into five phases such as initiation or startup phase, planning phase, execution phase, monitoring & control phases, and lastly closure phase. This division can help you to structure your efforts and arrange them into a series of manageable and logical steps. These five phases revolve around a cycle that is commonly known as a project life cycle.
A project life cycle is a sequence of these five phases starting from initiation to closure. Every project has a definite start and end, project goals or objectives, activities, and deliverables. The project life cycle provides the basic foundation of the actions that have to be performed in the project, irrespective of the specific work involved.
Here, we will only discuss the project startup or initiation phase of the project.
- Project Startup / Initiation Phase
As we see that project initiation is the first and undoubtedly be the most important phase of the project life cycle. If it is executed in the right way then it paves the way for successful completion of the project within the allocated time and budget.
The project initiation phase involves the necessary steps that need to be taken before a project is approved followed by its planning and execution. The ultimate objective is to define the project at a high level and tie it into the business case you wish to solve.
During the initiation phase, a project is created and defined. Key parameters of the project like project charter, scope, objectives, stakeholders, and expectations from the project are also defined during this phase.
Let us briefly look into these parameters one by one:
- Creating a Project Charter
During the initiation phase, you need to create your project charter, or in other words, a Project Initiation Document (PID) that outlines the purpose and requirements of the project. Moreover, it also includes details such as the needs of the business, stakeholders involved, scope, objectives, and overall goals. It provides a foundation to project managers to define project decisions and ensuring they are in line with organizational strategic goals.
- Defining Project Scope
The project scope includes the project’s objectives, budget, schedule, and deliverables. While scope can change over time, you must define scope early on to set expectations with all stakeholders.
- Setting Project Objectives
Set project objectives and goals can help you to avoid potential risks and put the project on track to success. With a clear set of objectives, the project team will also stay on track because each team member will know precisely what he/she is working towards. Project objectives must be SMART like these should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-oriented.
- Involving the Stakeholders
You being the project manager must ensure that all important stakeholders are involved early on and while taking key decisions for the project. Most of the project managers often overlook this aspect considering it less important, so it’s important to consider everyone that may be impacted by or have an interest in the project plan, deliverables, and outcome. Project stakeholders can be internal and external. To maintain transparency throughout the project, you need to be equipped with the necessary tools and techniques to communicate with the stakeholders effectively.
- Setting Clear Expectations
Setting clear expectations of project objectives, timelines, resources, and deliverables is key to project success. By putting the required effort upfront, communicating the potential risks and issues to the stakeholders, and then executing the project activities with full dedication will impart a great impact on project success.
Six Important Questions Initiation Phase must Answer
Projects can be both simple and complex. With the change in project scope and size, its complexity changes that can affect all the parties involved in the project. Here are a few important questions that you can answer to get any project off to a better start.
i. What needs to be done at this earlier stage to increase the likelihood of project success?
This question gets you thinking about the key things to do now. Often at the beginning, especially on big projects, people focus all their effort on planning. While planning is certainly important, sometimes there are actions other than “to plan” that need to be done early.
ii. What are the key skills and people require to complete the project?
We cannot execute a project on our own without having a dedicated project team. Therefore, getting the right people with the right skills on your team is critical and needs to be done as soon as you can.
iii. How can I influence project team members to keep them committed to the project?
This is a very important aspect. You need to communicate the objectives to your team members and let them know and understand why you want them in your team, the roles they can play, and influence them to choose to be involved when they have other competing interests and opportunities.
iv. What are the major deliverables for the project?
A key part of any project plan is to outline what the outcomes will be. Answering this question is a critical part of your project planning, and is sometimes overlooked as people focus only on the results, not considering the major deliverables along the way.
v. How detailed does the project plan need to be at this stage?
Think about the complexity of the project, the number of people involved, and the skill and experience of those people. All of these factors can play into the decision of how detailed to make your plan. Make your plan detailed enough that people are clear on the deliverables and know what is expected of them.
vi. What steps need to be taken at this stage to restrict project risks?
You need to think about the end of the project. Imagine what obstacles and bottlenecks can be there stopping the project from getting completed successfully. Then step back and ask yourself how you can eliminate the obstacles, bridge the roadblocks, and clear the hurdles now. This is one of the best uses of your time at the start i.e., to take steps to reduce or eliminate these things before they can occur to stall or delay your project.
Role and Importance of project Manager at Initiation Phase
A project manager is a person who is responsible for leading the project. In other words, project managers are the spearheads of a project. They ensure that the project is completed within the specified deadline and gets delivered to the client without any flaws. The project manager handles all the aspects of the project from project initiation to closure.
During the startup or initiation phase of a project, the project manager focuses on developing the project infrastructure needed to execute the project and developing clarity around the project charter and scope. Developing the project infrastructure can be a simple task on a project with a low complexity level.
To accomplish the mentioned tasks at an earlier stage, the project manager must have a combination of technical, managerial, and soft skills. He/she must have leadership traits and the ability to ask penetrating questions, detect unstated assumptions, understand the stakeholders involved in the project and their associated roles and responsibilities in the project and resolve the possible conflicts among the stakeholders.
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