Initiating a Project – The Key Steps

In many cases, certain projects and programs fall into the scope of the ‘general maintenance’ type. i.e. while the project is ‘new’ per se, it is actually just part of a long term release cycle for an established product. The majority of projects will actually fall into this category. And while any project has its own set of challenges, maintenance projects are generally more routine.

So what about a brand new project? Something completely new, off the cuff and outside of the general ‘comfort zone’ for both the project manager and the members of the team? How does one handle the tackling of an entirely new project and what steps does the project manager take in order to ensure the team gains a strong foothold straight out of the gate?

In a previous post, I discussed the topic of the ‘Project Charter’, giving a synopsis of what it is and why it is needed. (For reference, that post can be accessed here: Project Charter – What is it and why is it needed?)

Aspects of that post will be part of this overall discussion since the notion of the project charter is one of the most fundamental aspects when creating a new project from scratch.

So what are the key steps when it comes to project instantiation? I’ve outlined what I consider to be the seven major steps a project manager should take when beginning a project from scratch:

  1. Define Stakeholders – While some may consider this step to occur a little later, an initial set of stakeholders is necessary for preliminary discussions. The list will most likely adjust as the project moves forward until a ‘core’ set of stakeholders is defined. However, to get the ball rolling, a small tiger team of initial stakeholders (people who may have been part of the initial brainstorming sessions) can begin a high level review of key aspects of the project.
  2. Perform Architectural Review and Feasibility study – In many cases, even before full project definition, it is imperative that the initial stakeholders determine the likelihood of the project’s success be determining if a) the project is feasible and b) is capable of being done based on any technology or resource limitations. Without determining this up front, a project manager may spend quite a bit of time on a project plan and assessment only to realize that the project’s key attributes are outside of the capabilities of the organization.
  3. Define the Business Case – In most scenarios, the business case will likely be a compendium of aspects of a marketing requirements document (MRD) which is then drafted into a high level business requirements document (BRD). The business case will often give information on the marketing and revenue (or cost savings) rational for the project. It will be the justification for moving forward and will likely require sign-off from the key project sponsor or the executive team.
  4. Draft the Project Charter – This will be a segway from the previous step. It will be the full document that will define the project scope, attributes, high level milestones, expected deliverables, key expectations, overall vision and main implementation plan. Note that it is absolutely IMPERATIVE that this document be as detailed as possible. Many projects have stumbled in the past due to a poorly defined project charter and composite BRD. This document defines the ‘what’ portion of the project. By ensuring it is complete and signed-off on by all key stakeholders, the expectations and scope of the project should be well understood by everyone.
  5. Define the Project Team – These will be all the individuals that will participate in the initiation, implementation and rollout of the project. For continued review of the project attributes, it is usually a good idea to define a sub-committee of individuals (usually management level resources) that will meet on a regular basis to discuss the progress of the overall project. An added concept is to invite the project sponser to meetings periodically to discuss overall project movement and bring up any key issues that may require the sponser’s feedback.
  6. Perform Project Review – This will actually occur at several stages during the project lifecycle. But it is important to ensure it also happens before the project commences. This is important to ensure that the project charter is reviewed again, that all necessary resources have been committed and that all key stakeholders are on board with the project scope and deliverables. Note that while this may seem redundant with the project charter step, the passage of time between when the charter was drafted and when the review occurs could be several months. So it is important that a refresher occurs and that any new issues or scope changes are cataloged and discussed.
  7. Initiate the Project – Once all other steps are taken care of, the project can commence. As mentioned before, certain steps will be revisited during the full project lifecycle to ensure the project is moving ahead smoothly. Some of these considerations may be things like resource re-allocations, scope changes or budget reviews.

Following the key steps listed above for any new project that comes within the radar of the project manager should allow him/her to be able to move forward with confidence and ensure that the new project is adequately scoped and defined for implementation.