A) The Starting Point: “Project Initiation”

“Project leaders who embrace a brand mindset can deliver better on the organization’s business strategy.” MIT Sloan Management Review

To be successful, it is imperative that project managers adopt the right mindset, vis-à-vis project management, at the very beginning of the project life cycle. In short, they need to understand the importance of project branding and define project goals accordingly. Take the example of Coca-Cola’s business case where the global brand unveiled a “New Coke” flavor in 1985. It resulted in complete chaos.

The problem: The brand failed to understand that after all these years, Coca-Cola had moved on from being just a tasty drink to a “brand icon” – one that mirrored the customer’s habits, offered nostalgia, and reinforced loyalty. It did not need to be reinvented at all. The result? Coca-Cola ended up fielding 400,000 angry phone calls from the customers and suffered a cumulative loss of $30 million.

The learnings: Before any new project takes the floor, it is critical to define the project goals and understand the customers’, stakeholders’, employee’s motivations – even before the numbers and data are chalked up.

To help you get started, you can ask yourself the following project initiation-centric questions, to start the project on the right note:

  • What are the key issues you are trying to solve?
  • How can you make the best use of the resources available (time, money, assets, etc.)?
  • What are the perceived risks for undertaking this project?
  • What kind of losses will you incur if you do not execute the project?

“Project managers must be able to sell business leaders on the intrinsic value they offer to the business at a strategic level when they are at the table from the start of strategic planning instead of after the fact decision-making. A project manager’s effectiveness is drastically muted when offering a “fix-it” or “workaround” once high-level directional business decisions are made without their expertise.” – Moira Alexander, author of Lead Or Lag: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership and founder of PMWorld 360 Magazine.

To that end, the initiation phase comprises of the following steps when it comes to creating a project plan:

Step 1: Engaging in research and discussions to understand business needs and priorities from the very beginning:

“At the very beginning, dedicate enough time to requirements gathering and project documentation. Allot about 50% more time than you think you need to engage all project stakeholders and develop agreed-upon project life cycles, milestones, and completion criteria. When everyone understands the goal, how you’re going to get there, and their roles along the way, you can get started.” – Nina Vaca, Pinnacle Group, Inc.

Step 2: Gauging the feasibility of the project by conducting feasibility tests with respect to legal, technical, operational, schedule, and economic measures.

Step 3: Developing a project charter on the project initiation document which outlines the project objective.

In fact, a report by PMSolutions suggests that “65% of higher performers derive significant value from improving the synchronization of projects with organizational objectives”:

For your reference, take a look at the key elements of a project charter:

  • Project deliverables
  • Project objective
  • Project sponsor
  • Project stakeholders
  • Triple constraint expectations: timing, budget, and scope
  • Risks
  • Team member roles and responsibilities
  • In/out of scope elements
  • Critical success factors
  • Assumptions
  • Project success
  • Signatures

Step 4: Identifying stakeholders and their motivations to get their “go-ahead” and kick start the project planning phase.

According to research by KPMG, “Approximately 33% of organizations deliver projects that meet the business objective or original goal. On the other hand, 34% of organizations deliver projects that achieve stakeholders’ satisfaction.”

Here’s what Marc Fischer has to say about the importance of team and stakeholder communication:

“Active dialogue inside the team—with developer teams as well as with business stakeholders—helps to establish a common vocabulary as well as shared expectations for the resulting collaboration. For example, a client thinks a task is simple to implement when, in reality, it is far more involved. Aligning those expectations early sets your project up for maximum client satisfaction.” – Marc Fischer, Dogtown Media LLC

Expert tip: At this phase, it is important that you don’t overwhelm yourself with the technical requirements as these will vary from phase-to-phase. To keep track of changing requirements, deploy a capable tool for requirements management that will allow stakeholder and team collaboration, requirement history tracking, and linking to other activities and phases of the project.