Is your project controlled from the start? A good start is half the battle so make sure that your project has a fighting chance by providing it with a solid foundation through a proper Initiation process. This blog outlines the importance of initiation and what key elements need to be in place to prevent your projects being stillborn.
Project initiation is a critical first step towards ultimate project success. Initiation provides formal authorization for the project to exist, identifies the project sponsor, links the project to the strategic objectives of the organisation and provides the project manager with the authority to command all the resources that are required to deliver the project. All these need to be in place for the project to be ultimately successful.
Association to Strategy
Every project should in some way link back to the organisation’s strategic objectives. The organisation will be changed in some aspect following the completion of the project. The change should bridge the gap between where the organisation is now and where it needs to be in order to achieve its strategic objectives.
It is the responsibility of senior management to ensure that projects are aligned with the organisation’s strategic objectives. This is achieved by including senior management in initiations to ensure that they are linked to projects through a formal process and sign-off procedure. This should ensure an alignment of projects and strategy. It also provides formal authority for projects to exist and for project managers to command all the resources necessary to deliver projects successfully.
Every project needs a sponsor – a specific member of the senior management team who will gain from the project and who will champion the project’s cause at senior management level. Someone once told me that a project needs a good MAN. This was not a prejudiced remark but an acronym for a project’s essential requirement to have someone who has the Money, the Authority and the Need to ensure that the project gets done.
The higher the level of sponsorship, the better for the project. The project manager can be a proxy for the sponsoring manager and gets the authority necessary to deliver the project through them. The higher the level of power and influence of the sponsor, the more likely it is that the project manager will be able to get things done.
Initiation should provide a clear vision for the project that encapsulates its overriding purpose. It should be possible to break the vision down into a set of key business objectives. The business objectives should be capable of being expressed in terms that are realistic, quantifiable, measurable and testable. Such objectives provide focus to the project team and ultimately provide the basis for verification of the project’s work and the means to handover the project to the customer.
For example, “increase the number of orders processed”, is not an appropriate objective as it is not quantified and cannot be measured or tested. “Increase the number of orders processed per day by 20%” is quantified, can be measured, and can be tested. It thus provides a basis for verification of the product and ultimately for handover to the customer.
Focused business objectives also support the project team in accurately defining the scope of the project. The project scope defines the deliverables that need to be produced for the project to meet its overall objectives. As well as defining what the project will deliver, the scope should outline the outer boundaries of the project and items that will be excluded. At initiation stage, when there may be a lack of detail, an outline or preliminary scope may be all that is possible.
Stakeholders i.e. those that will be impacted by the project, should be identified at the initiation phase. It is essential that the major stakeholders understand and agree on what their roles and responsibilities will be in delivering the project.
For example, it is essential that the sponsor plays an active role and does not just pay lip service to the project. It strengthens the project manager’s hand if roles and responsibilities are documented and agreed in the initiation process. The project manager must work with key stakeholders and influence them towards active roles e.g. that they act as project champions, as points of escalation, that they provide resources as agreed and attend project meetings if required.
A weak project initiation process does not bode well for your project. Any objective examination of why projects fail would find that some of the key reasons are linked to deficiencies in the areas outlined above. Build your project on a solid foundation and not on quicksand. If a formal initiation process does not exist in your organisation, put your own in place.
Have a standard project management software for your organisation which will help you manage, track and plan your projects more effectively, helping you eliminate other threats to your project. The above is not rocket science and can be achieved. Of course, it will take some work, but the payoff will be significant.