Project Initiation Phase
Whether conceived from solving a business problem or creating new opportunities, every project needs a beginning. But before you can get the ball rolling, you need direction and buy-in from stakeholders and contributors. In the project management life cycle, the initiation phase is that kickoff, laying the groundwork for a successful road ahead.
What is the project initiation phase?
The project initiation phase encapsulates all of the critical components of creating the vision for your project and determining how to turn that vision into a reality. The initiation phase is when your project will start to take shape, and its reason for existing will be clarified and defined starting with the project intake process.
During the project initiation process, you will also need to secure any necessary approvals or sponsorships, figure out which resources are needed to see the project through to the end, and put together the best team for the job.
Project initiation process
The project initiation phase is not a singular task but rather a full process made up of six vital steps. By working through the full checklist during the project initiation phase, your project with start with clearly defined strategy and schedule.
A business case defines the value a project will deliver, documenting the rationale for undertaking it and explaining how it aligns with the organization’s high-level strategic goals. The project sponsor owns this step in the process, but portions of it may be delegated to the project manager to complete. It’s the first thing to check off on your project initiation checklist, so your project can move forward with the proper approvals and strong executive support. The business case cites all benefits, potential project risks, and issues that could arise, along with potential solutions, costs, time, resource needs, and projected ROI. It may be presented to the executive team and any other project stakeholders, who will determine if the project is worth pursuing.
Once the business case is approved, use it to write your project charter, which is the next step in the project initiation phase. Written by the project sponsor or manager, the project charter formally documents how the project will be managed, including an overview of the project scope, high-level objectives and deliverables, team member roles and responsibilities, specific resources needed, timelines, costs, potential risks and problems, dependencies, and success criteria. The project charter functions as a contract between the project sponsor, stakeholders, and project team, defining the scope of the project manager’s authority. For creative projects, your creative team should require a creative brief, which will include the project's purpose, messaging, demographics, and more.
While an overview of the project scope should be included in your project charter, you need a second document to explain in greater detail all of the work that needs to be executed to complete the project successfully. The project scope includes a list of final deliverables, available resources, inclusions and exclusions, project constraints, and major tasks and milestones, all of which are designed to keep your project from exceeding time and budget goals.
Roles and responsibilities
Having the right team is crucial to project success. The project manager is responsible for choosing team members who make the most sense for the project and determining their roles and responsibilities. Sometimes, team member roles will overlap, or a particular team member may take on more than one role, so clear communication around assignments and tasks is key. A RACI Chart can help document key responsibilities.
Your project’s success often depends on the support and participation of its stakeholders. These individuals include anyone affected by the project, including but not limited to project sponsors, business experts, project team members, and end users. Once you’ve identified these people, it’s crucial to bring them up to speed at the beginning of the project and keep them involved and informed along the way.
The project kickoff meeting between the project sponsor, stakeholders, and project team creates a shared understanding of the vision and goals of the project and builds credibility and trust. In this meeting, you’ll review the project charter and scope, set expectations, clarify roles and responsibilities, establish team dynamics, and set the tone for the weeks and months ahead.
Start your project the right way
As you begin the project management initiation phase, certain guidelines should be followed to increase your chances of success. Taking these steps will help ensure that your project starts strong and builds momentum from there.
Meet with the project sponsor
The project sponsor is the person or entity who has requested the project. This could be your company’s CEO, your direct boss, a client, and so forth. Schedule an appointment with the project sponsor so that you can fully immerse yourself in the who, what, where, when, and why of the project.
Think through the questions you’d like to ask beforehand, which will show initiative and increase the sponsor’s confidence in your project management abilities. Asking pertinent questions before starting the project also ensures that you know what the project sponsor is looking for. Consult the list of FAQs below for ideas. It’s also a good idea to ask who will be your contact throughout the project in case you have questions—this person will be your project champion, which is often the same person as the project sponsor, but not always.
Establish a relationship with the project champion
Company executives will often appoint someone to act on their behalf for certain projects or initiatives. Your project champion is just as important as the project sponsor because they will be your go-to when you have questions or concerns about the project, also advocating for your project with other executives and departments as needed to help clear obstacles as they arise.
Project initiation phase FAQs
What questions should I ask in the pre-planning stage?
During the initial meeting with the project sponsor, focus on getting answers to these three questions:
- What is the objective of the project?
- What does a successful finished project look like?
- Who is the point of contact throughout the project?
Who should be on my team?
As a project manager, you need to establish a reliable team. Your team should ideally look like this:
- Project sponsor
- Executive sponsor
- Project champion
- Project team members
- Business analyst
Are there work management tools available to use?
A work management solution can help you manage your project from start to finish, ensuring that the work is completed on time and within budget. If you’re unsure about how to start a project, the tools and resources offered through work management software can help you get your feet off the ground.