Project Management Institute

That first step can be the most important


by Joan Knutson, Contributing Editor

IF THE RUNNER DOESN'T come off the starting block strong, the chance of a winning performance is greatly diminished. For project management, Initiation and Scope Definition is the “starting block” of the project life cycle. Initiation is defined in the PMBOK® Guide as “the process of formally recognizing that a new project exists or that an existing project should continue into its next phase” and Scope Definition as “subdividing the major project deliverables (as identified in the scope statement) into smaller, more manageable components.” In essence, this is the phase of the project when the business case for doing the work is made and consensus is reached regarding the scope of the effort.

As an executive, if you can coach the people on your project teams to “push off” correctly, without a misstep, then you will be orchestrating the best possibility for success. Part of initiating and defining a project is documenting the basic premises upon which the expectations of the customer will be based. Asking the following questions can identify these basic premises: What are we producing? What justifies the production of this deliverable? For whom are we producing the deliverable? What are the project parameters or time and cost targets? But more important than the document itself is the dialogue amongst the project players to reach agreement on the answers to these questions, plus the analysis and logical thinking that goes into translating the information gleaned from these dialogues into the initiation phase and scope definition document.

Get your project situated firmly at the starting block, prepared to run the race to a successful finish. On your mark … get set … go!

Let's assume that the initiation effort is completed. The powers-that-be have blessed the project—at least, they have blessed the scope definition effort. Let's also assume that there are seven steps that need to be performed to start a project correctly. And let's suggest that you as an executive need to “manage” this process to assure that it's done thoroughly and completely and if it is not, that you will require that it be done again until it is acceptable.


Joan Knutson is founder and president of Project Mentors, a San Francisco-based project management training and consulting firm. She can be reached at 415-955-5777. Send comments on this column to

These seven steps can be reconfigured to accommodate your projects and your culture.

1. Identify and Define High-Level Business-Related Requirements, Outcomes, and Criteria for Success. Using the discussions plus any documentation created from the initiation phase, confirm the expectations of the customer in writing and include any or all of the following areas:

images The background of this project, which might include a problem/opportunity statement, strategic alignment with organizational goals and other organizational initiatives and why the project is being initiated at this time; for example, a business need, a customer request, technological advances, a legal or regulation requirement

images High-level description of the deliverable from the project (what the product or service will look like, be able to do)

images Who will use it after it has been produced

images Strategy for creating the deliverable including any alternative approaches, plus a recommendation or a process to reach a recommendation

images Targeted completion date and rationale behind that date

images Budget dollars available and basis upon which that budget was determined

images Areas of risks that the project client is or is not willing to accept

images Priority of this project as it relates to all the other projects being performed within the organization

images Who is the sponsor of the project; who will provide direction and decisions

images Constraints; that is, what has been predetermined as opposed to those things which the project manager can select on his/her own (example: the software will be purchased rather than developed internally)

images Assumptions, such as resources, which will be available as needed.

2. Define Business Justification for Project. Given the confirmed high-level scope definition from Step 1 and using basic cost/benefit techniques:

images Document the business justification for this project, which include benefits, tangible benefits expressed as dollar savings or dollar revenue as well as intangible benefits such as better morale

images Future opportunities made possible by conducting this project

images Developmental costs, as translated into internal or out-of-pocket dollars

images Recurring or ongoing costs, as translated into internal or out-of-pocket dollars

images Breakeven point, return on investment calculations, and so forth, as appropriate.

3. Clearly Identify Stakeholders’ Low-Level Needs and Expectations, Including Boundaries for Project Budget, Duration, and Risk. Given the confirmed high-level scope definition from Step 1 and the project justification from Step 2, identify and define the following:

images The roles of the stakeholders, including the primary project client, the ultimate end users and any other impacted parties (internal or external to the organization)

images An all-inclusive set of requirements presented in specific, definitive terms, which include differentiation of mandatory versus optional requirements, if it is possible to differentiate those at this time; success criteria, i.e., the technical performance (quality standards) upon which the deliverable will be measured; completion criteria, i.e., what needs to be delivered, for example, a fully tested system or a system after being live for three months; and the requirements that are excluded from this project

images Targeted completion date, including the time target relative to a specified start date expressed as a specific date, i.e,. mm/dd/yy, or a range of dates or a specific quarter and year, for example, third quarter 2000; the consequences if that time target is not met; a milestone chart including any phase reviews, if appropriate

images Anticipated budget, including any or all of the following: any plus or minus tolerance; any contingency funds or management reserves, if negotiated; and the consequences if that budget is not met

images Which of the three criteria—technical performance (quality), time target (schedule) or anticipated budget (cost)—is the highest priority to the project client

images All assumptions made relative to the above.

Given the areas of risk, which the project client stated that they are not willing to accept in Step 1, define any or all of the following:

images The potential time and dollar impact,

images Worst-case scenario targeted completion date and budget

images Confidence level in your projected completion date, budgeted dollars and quality of deliverable as defined above.

Given a particular industry, investigate specific industry regulation and requirements for their impact on the project.

4. Define Project Manager Role and Authority. Knowing the organization's culture, clarify the following:

images The role of the customer (sponsor) of the project as he or she relates to the project manager

images The major skills required in the project team

images The type of team structure; for example, part-time matrix, full-time matrix

images The role of the project manager, including any or all of the following: responsibilities, accountabilities, authority (formal and informal)

images Percentage of the project manager's time available to this project

images Performance appraisal process relative to this project.

5. Create a Scope Document That Accurately Represents the Project Size and Specifics. Taking all the information from Steps 1, 2, 3 and 4, finalize the scope definition document, adding any or all of the following as appropriate:

images Proposed external supplier relationships

images Proposed internal relationships with other departments, divisions, subsidiaries, and so forth

images Communication plan, including purpose, mode, recipients, and frequency

images Requirements for the change control process, including how to request a change, how to analyze the impact of the change, and how to obtain approval for the additional funds or time to implement the change

images Post-project review plan, including metrics that will be measured, types of information that will be collected, how it will be assembled and maintained so that preparation of lessons learned is expedited at the end of the project

images Choice of a project management methodology or a product development methodology, if appropriate.

If the culture is amenable, given the final scope definition created above, create a project vision statement; a 50-words-or-less directive synthesizing the purpose and goal of the project in order to build enthusiasm and a common vision. The project vision statement may be stated using this format: “The Vision of the XYZ project is to (objective) in order to (accomplish what) so that (end result) for (whom) by (when) for (what cost).”

6. Build Consensus Among Stakeholders and Obtain Written Approval From Stakeholders. Using communication, influencing and negotiation skills, interview the stakeholders as appropriate during all the above steps.

Using meeting management skills, conduct a project kickoff effort; a face-to-face meeting if possible, or an audio conference, or at minimum a series of kickoff memos/e-mails.

Given the final scope document created above and given a culture that accepts a written sign-off protocol, obtain sign-offs from, at minimum, the primary project client and if appropriate representatives from the ultimate end users and any other impacted parties (internal or organization). If a sign-off protocol is not appropriate, obtain tacit agreement through the kickoff effort described above.

7. Generate a Project Plan for the Next Phase of the Project. Using project management planning skills, produce one or all of the following:

images Detailed work breakdown structure

images Resource assignments by name

images Corresponding schedule (Gantt chart), including critical path

images Resource-leveled work plan

images Detailed budget

images Detailed risk management plan

images Detailed quality management plan.

STAMINA, STRIDE, STYLE and strength at the finish line are all important in winning a race. But if the runner doesn't get a good start it becomes more difficult and in some cases almost impossible to run the race. Encourage your project managers to think through all of the steps above so that the project gets off to the start it deserves and is given every chance of getting across the finish line successfully. images

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM Network September 1999



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