Everything You Need To Know About Project Initiation

Gain an understanding of the project initiation phase, which centers on setting vision, garnering stakeholder support, planning, and managing uncertainty.

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Project managers typically follow a five-phase project lifecycle in various methodologies, such as the traditional waterfall and agile approaches. Very often, the process starts with the project initiation phase.

The project initiation phase is vital because it sets the vision, secures stakeholder support, outlines the plan, and minimizes uncertainty—all crucial for a successful project outcome. No other phase has a more significant impact on the project's success, so it's essential to invest time and effort to ensure a strong start. You'll appreciate the effort later.

Stay tuned as we delve deeper into the first phase of the project management process.

What happens during the project initiation phase?

The project initiation phase involves considerable effort upfront for the project manager, as they must pull everything together, obtain approvals, and ensure sign-offs. It's crucial to follow these steps for a strong foundation:

1. Develop a business case that outlines the project objectives and scope.

Aligning the project's purpose and boundaries is crucial and saves time during the execution phase. Consider the following questions:

  1. What problems will the project solve?
  2. What are the key deliverables?
  3. What is in and out of scope?

2. Create a project charter that aligns the business case elements with the project-specific goals.

In your project charter, address these points:

  • What is the project background? Why is it needed?
  • Is the project part of a more extensive program within the organization?
  • What is the project governance structure? Who will sponsor, lead, and participate?
  • What are the key roles, responsibilities, and decision-making processes?
  • How will you determine project success and monitor performance? Consider success criteria or the definition of done.
  • Who are the stakeholders, and their roles?
  • What is the approval process? Who approves what and when?

3. Develop a high-level plan that includes timelines, budgets, resource requirements, and risks.

This initial plan guides detailed planning and helps assess the feasibility and value of the project. Refine and optimize as needed.

4. Review feedback.

It's essential to make any necessary adjustments to the project objectives, scope, plan, or other aspects of initiation before transitioning to the planning phase.

Why is initiation crucial?

The project initiation phase holds significant importance in the project lifecycle for the following reasons:

  • Establishes a shared vision and expectations: A well-defined vision and agreed-upon expectations keep stakeholders and team members aligned, reducing the likelihood of the project going off track. It helps maintain high-quality output, client satisfaction, and team morale.
  • Ensures stakeholder buy-in: During the initiation phase, stakeholder support helps prevent potential roadblocks and challenges during the project's execution.
  • Encourages upfront planning: The initiation phase requires thorough planning, covering deliverables, risks, costs, and approval gates. This proactive approach helps maintain direction and reduces uncertainty, preventing the need to scramble and address issues as they arise.
  • Builds a solid foundation: A robust initiation phase creates a reliable foundation based on documentation, thorough planning, and agreement among all parties. This foundation streamlines planning and execution, reduces the risk of errors, and fosters trust in your team's ability to deliver the project successfully.

➡️ Learn more about project estimation at the beginning of projects.

Avoid cutting corners during the initiation phase

Allocating 5-10% of the total project schedule to the initiation phase is generally recommended, as it ensures adequate time for preparation. For a 6-12 month project, this means spending 3-6 weeks on initiation.

In today's fast-paced world, cutting corners is tempting, but skipping steps in the initiation phase can have severe consequences. Common oversights by project managers include failing to align and obtain approval from stakeholders and not clearly defining the project scope and deliverables. These oversights often impact the execution phase, with stakeholders discovering that deliverables or designs don't meet their expectations.

Backtracking from this situation is challenging and costly, as time and resources have already been invested in the project. Reversing the damage to trust and confidence in your team and organization may also prove problematic. You might have to absorb costs, postpone other projects, or add resources while the client remains unwilling to compromise on their timeline or budget.

The domino effect of unpleasant consequences often falls on the project manager, who must explain why alignment discussions and sign-offs were not conducted earlier. Paying close attention to the initiation phase is essential to avoid these pitfalls and ensure a successful project outcome!

Seven tips to streamline project initiation

Streamlining this process is more than just ensuring that your client and agency are happy (which is important). It’s also about using your time at work to set up a process that won’t require late nights or time away from the fun things in life.

Here are seven tips to streamline the project initiation process:

1. Develop project initiation templates

Create scope, objectives, timelines, budgets, risks, governance, and approvals sections. Reuse these templates for each new project to save time and effort.

2. Use project and resource management tools

Step away from Word and Excel and utilize widely-used project management tools like Float. They can help you store templates, past work, and documentation for future use.


Pro tip

Float simplifies resource management through customizable reports, time tracking, and smooth integration with top tools, paving the way for more successful projects.

<tip-button>Learn more</tip-button></tip>

3. Create templates for similar projects

Save time and effort by reusing templates for identical project types instead of building everything from scratch. Learn from your or other project managers' experiences within your company and use their work as a starting point. Your template could include the following:

  • Resourced timeline: Pre-populate your template with placeholder resources, effort per task, and approximate time per phase. This provides a foundation for customizing the timeline based on the specific project requirements. If you're using a project planning tool like Float, you have information about timelines, hours worked, and capacity reporting at your fingertips.
  • Budget template: Incorporate specific cost categories into your budget template, making it easier to adjust the numbers for each project while maintaining a consistent format and structure.
  • Project initiation checklist: Detail everything that must be accomplished in the initiation phase, ensuring no missed steps.

➡️ Grab a copy of our straightforward yet effective checklist (File > Download in the doc) or make a copy in your Google Drive.

4. Create a risk database

Maintain a database of common risks encountered in past projects. Review and update this database for each new project to plan responses to recurrent threats upfront, allowing you to address potential issues proactively.

5. Reuse approval process and communication channel matrixes

Develop matrixes or diagrams for approval processes and communication channels that can be easily updated to reflect the nuances of each client. This ensures consistency and efficiency in your project management approach.

6. Design a standard project governance structure

Establish a governance structure with defined roles and responsibilities. Consider including this structure in client contracts to clarify expectations and working methods before project commencement.

7. Hold a workshop with key stakeholders

Organize a workshop involving all essential personnel related to the project. This approach streamlines communication, reducing the need for continuous documentation updates. The workshop's goal is to secure stakeholder buy-in and have everyone sign the project charter, confirming their understanding and commitment to the project objectives.

Never underestimate the power of project initiation

Neglecting this crucial phase can lead to a cascade of issues, causing delays, miscommunications, and an overall sense of instability throughout the project lifecycle. By investing time and effort upfront, you ensure a unified vision and clear direction for your team, setting the stage for a smooth journey and high-quality end product.

A well-executed initiation lays the foundation for efficiency and effectiveness in every subsequent phase, empowering your team to excel and achieve success!