How to Avoid Project Failure: Initiating Your Project Effectively
Without the correct initiation, even the best project, instigated with great ambition and worthy goals, can wind up as a lost cause. The initiation phase – the first step when starting a new project – allows teams to lay out a solid foundation for the work that is to come. Establishing an easy-to-understand structure and laying out an agreed plan allows teams actualize their great ideas and ambitions for any given project.
Initiating a Project: What is Involved?
During the initiation phase, the motivation behind embarking on the project and what business value it will deliver are established. It is during this phase that the project is defined at a high level to demonstrate its business value both to those working on the project and related stakeholders. It proves that the work to be carried out is feasible and allows stakeholders to gain early insights so that resources can be secured, full visibility is established, and the chances of costly roadblocks down the line are minimized.
Starting a Project
Any project begins with an idea. It could be to tackle a problem, address a need, or make the most of an opportunity.
When starting out, a business case is used to explain why the project needs to happen. The business case outlines what resources and finances are needed to complete the work. This should be adaptable to the size of the risk in each proposal, but it should also remain structurally consistent across projects. The business case should be clear, relevant, and logical, and its main aspects should be tracked, measured, and justified. It should consider the cost, time, and resources it will take, as well as the commitment needed to complete the project to a high standard. The business case should contain a comprehensive cost benefit analysis, with the projected return on investment (ROI) clearly established.
An analysis of risks and the risk management plan should also be highlighted and articulated in such a way as to avoid ambiguity.
Defining the Project Charter
A charter highlights the project’s scope, objectives, and goals in order to gain the approval of key stakeholders. The charter should contain a succinct explanation of the project’s pivotal components before work begins. This early intervention allows projects to gain approval or corrections before more in-depth planning is created.
It can be easy for the project charter to become unwieldy and almost a project in itself. It should contain only the objectives, scope, and responsibilities of the project. Work on developing the project plan should only begin after the charter has been approved. The plan builds on the charter to provide improved insight into the project’s principal areas.
The project charter should be clear on the overall objective. Key questions are: why is this work important and what are its key objectives?
The purpose of the project and how it will help the organization achieve its goals should be clearly articulated.
The following actions will help at this stage:
- Define the reasons for the project
- Explain how it improves the business
- Specify the expected deliverables
- Identify anticipated risks and constraints
- Itemize the main milestones
- Identify the key players
The project’s scope should also be clearly outlined in the project charter. This scope should set boundaries for the project outlining what will and will not be done within the suggested timeline. The most important outline to provide stakeholders with is the ideal budget – where will the money be spent and why.
The next step is to establish who will be working on the project. This inventory should include all those taking part such as: key stakeholders, executive stakeholders, sponsors, and the general team. A resource management plan is an effective way to illustrate how and when these resources will be allocated.
Going for Goals – The Goals Pyramid
Every project needs goals to keep it on track. Goals help to assess how the project is going, what is working, and where improvements can be made. Without goals, time and money can and will be lost.
Realistic, achievable, and worthwhile goals can be established by effectively defining the project. Asking questions such as who, where, what, when, why, and how allows managers to understand any project at a more in-depth level.
This ‘5W1H method’ is a great way to help define the project.
- What? What outcome or result am I trying to achieve?
- Who? Who is the project for? Who will use it? Who will create the project?
- Where? Where will the project be?
- When? What is the date of the assignment? When will it start? How long will it last?
- Why: Why am I doing this project?
- How? How will I complete this project?
- How many? What budget do you have at your disposal? What are the delays in the commencement or completion?
Three of these questions relate specifically to goals:
“Why am I doing this project?”
“What outcome or result am I trying to achieve?”
“How will I achieve it?”
These three questions operate as a goals pyramid. A pyramid is appropriate here because higher-level goals determine and prioritize the lower-level ones.
When using the goals pyramid, asking why questions at any level leads up, and asking how leads down – the organizational objective defines the project’s objectives; the project’s objectives define the deliverables.
Project Partnership: Identifying Stakeholders
According to the Project Management Institute, project stakeholders are defined as:
“Individuals and organizations who are actively involved in the project, or whose interests may be positively or negatively affected as a result of project execution or successful project completion.”
To be considered a stakeholder, the person or group must have a certain level of influence and interest in the project. The project will benefit from understanding both their interests and the potential impact if a need is not met.
The first step toward building this understanding is to have a brainstorming session with selected members. All stakeholders should be considered at the outset and – as the project moves into the later stages of analysis – they may be dropped. It is usually helpful to identify the stakeholders by name, outlining their interest, and rating the likely impact level they will have on the project. It is best practice to create a table or spreadsheet with their key interests, estimated level of impact on the project, and their level of priority in comparison to the other stakeholders. It is important to outline multiple interests and ensure that those that are overt or hidden in relation to the project objectives are listed.
It is essential to ensure that the stakeholders’ interests are established through their perspective and not that of the project manager. Each interest should be placed in the context of the project phase – interests should change as the project progresses from its early stages to the finish line. With some stakeholders, it may be best to ask them questions to gain insight into their interests. Questions to consider might be:
- What are your project expectations?
- Do you believe there are stakeholders who may have a conflict with your interests?
- How will the success of the project benefit you?
The next step is to determine the stakeholders’ importance and influence. For instance, it may be critical to a project’s success to determine if a stakeholder with strong influence holds negative interests. Influence indicates a stakeholder’s power in the decision-making and other factors of the project such as causing others to act. Influence is usually derived from hierarchy, political, or economic standpoints. Importance indicates the stakeholders’ actual need for the project if needs, expectations, and issues are not addressed. The users of the project’s product would be considered incredibly important here.
Communicating With Stakeholders
Finally, having identified the key stakeholders, it is important to communicate the project and its plans with them accordingly. Effective communication with stakeholders achieves all-important buy-in and naturally creates a dedicated support network for the project. It gathers information for the company and helps resolve any conflicts that may arise. It helps the organization to understand the who the project is affecting. Some stakeholders will have more influence and interest than others so different forms of communication are needed. Some stakeholders may need regular updates while others will only need an overview to stay informed and feel involved. It is important to plan based on their interests and influence. For example, which stakeholders have a high interest and low influence, or which are those with a low interest but high influence and so on. The information each stakeholder will need to know should be tailored accordingly. Do they need detailed reports, emails, meetings, or calls? Are they enthused or put off by large amounts of complicated data? How often to check in with them is another consideration.
Effectively initiating a project can sometimes seem like a project within a project, but with an effective initiation structure in place, organizations can benefit enormously. By following the steps outlined above and creating a culture where all projects are approached in his way, organizations can move toward their goals with renewed efficiency and confidence.