Being entrusted to initiate and plan your company’s new project can be a great responsibility—and it’s something you don’t want to mess up.
Project initiation, the process by which you start a project, and project planning, the process in which you create schedules and plan a project systematically, are integral to the project management process.
Project planning, the most important phase of the project management process, should be executed well, as poor planning may lead to serious problems and setbacks later.
Below, we list the twelve steps of the project management process that can help you get started initiating and planning a successful project.
Step 1: Develop Project Charter
The first step to starting your new project is to develop your project charter. Basically, your charter will serve as your project’s mission statement and serve as your guide throughout the project. In your charter, you should define the scope of your project (what you plan to do) as well as an overview of how it will be done (who will do what).
Successful project charters are prepared from information from three main sources: contracts, Service Level Agreements (SLA), and Letters of Award.
Your contracts are the agreements between you (the service provider) and your client. Your SLA is a special type of contract in which you and your client define and agree to the scope and deliverables of the project, and your Letter of Award states that you’ve won a particular bid for the project.
Within your project charter, be sure to provide a comprehensive overview of the scope and direction of the project. Also known as your project’s content, this information is key to the success and to the professionalism of your charter.
This document signifies to your project manager that (s)he has permission to start work on the tasks, as laid out in the charter. Having a clear direction, purpose, and high-level project description can keep all parties on the same page and help your team to provide a service as agreed to with your client.
In order to do this, your charter should include any and all requirements and key deliverables as well as provide a general milestone schedule. Parties responsible for the project, such as the project manager, the project sponsor, and keyholders, should be listed.
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Step 2: Identify Stakeholders
It’s imperative that you identify all stakeholders while developing your project charter. Stakeholders are any individual, group, or organization that will be affected by the outcome of the project.
In order to do this, most organizations run what’s called a stakeholder analysis. This analysis identifies the stakeholders in a project and determines what outcome the project should provide to each one.
A stakeholder register is also made. This register identifies project stakeholders and lists their influence over its outcome.
A Communications Management Plan is then put in place to help guide communications between your organization and all involved parties to help ensure favorable outcomes for all involved.
Step 3: Collect Requirements
Next, it’s important that you collect requirements for the project, or in other words, start brainstorming ideas behind the project’s goal.
To do this, you’ll need to conduct interviews and attend meetings with all the key stakeholders who can provide input to the project requirements as well as those who can contribute to the project’s success.
Communication is key during this stage, as you make sure that the brainstorming you do and the information you collect both reflect the desires of all parties.
Mind mapping is a popular and effective brainstorming technique that allows you to visually organize information. Creating a mind map can help you and the members of your team stay on track while collecting project requirements.
Step 4: Define Scope
This all goes into helping you define the project’s scope. You can think of your project’s scope as what you’re planning to do. It’s here that you set the limits of the project and determine just what is—and what isn’t—included in your service.
There are four important considerations to make when working to define your project’s scope.
The first is requirements documentation, or files that specifically define what should be accomplished. This document lists out all the requirements gathered during the requirement collection process.
Your product analysis should thoroughly review the project at hand, including the estimated costs, the work to be done, your competitors, and other important information that will allow management to review and consider the project.
Once this is done, you’ll need to draft a Project Scope Statement. This document is important, as it defines the scope and the goals of the project for all stakeholders involved.
Finally, you’ll want to use a Requirements Traceability Matrix to measure the success of your project. This matrix will allow you to ensure that those working at lower levels are meeting your high-level standards and adhering to the project’s overall mission. It will establish a baseline of goals as outlined in your project charter and use it to compare to your project’s current state. This allows management to adjust to present conditions and work to complete the project in an accurate and timely manner as agreed to in the project charter.
Step 5: Create Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is another essential element to helping ensure that your project is completed accurately and on-time.
Your WBS should breakdown the work to be done into several manageable sections to be carried out by different groups on your team. It should also establish a hierarchy of deliverables—things you seek to accomplish and provide through your service.
The process by which work is broken down and micro-managed is known as decomposition. Proper decomposition is important, as it helps make sure that the workload is manageable and that it is being conducted and supervised by members who are best-suited to do it on your team. This helps workflow proceed as accurately and as timely as possible.
Step 6: Develop Schedule
Developing a schedule is an integral part to your project charter. It’s important that you create a timeline that is agreed to upon all parties involved, as well as one that allows for the work to be done to the best-quality possible.
In order to do this, it’s important to define and sequence activities that need to be undertaken to complete the project. This means that you should know exactly what work will need to be done and what order it will be done in.
Once you have this information, you can start estimating activity duration so that you can get a general idea of how long the project will take.
Estimating activity duration can be tricky, as you want to leave enough time to accommodate for setbacks while also providing your service at a competitive pace. Be sure that your estimates will more-or-less align with reality to keep your stakeholders and your clients happy.
Step 7: Estimate Costs
In addition to estimating the time you will spend on the project, you’re also going to need to estimate costs. Having accurate cost estimates will help you to later plan a solid project budget.
There are three main methods organizations use to estimate costs:
- Analogous Estimating
- Bottom-Up Estimating
- Three-Point Estimating
Analogous estimating involves comparing the cost and the duration of similar projects in the past to help determine the overall costs of your current projects. While it can be helpful in getting a general ballpark figure, analogous estimating requires you to be careful in considering outside variables that could affect the cost from one project to the next.
Bottom-up estimating is a different process altogether and involves getting all of your team members to help you in the estimating process. In a way, bottom-up estimating gets the workers directly involved with a certain portion of the project to provide a general cost estimate of their portion. This can be effective, as it delegates cost estimation to the individuals who may have a better understanding of the cost of their specific tasks. These costs are then combined for an overall estimate.
Three-point estimating is favored by many project managers as a way to provide a more-accurate cost estimate. As you pay have guessed, three-point estimating involves the consideration of three different estimates and weighting them for a more-accurate guess of total project costs. The three estimates involved determine the best-cast scenario, the most-likely scenario, and the worst-case scenario. A weighted average of the three values is then taken to get an accurate estimate of overall costs.
Step 8: Determine Budget
Once you’ve got your total cost estimates in place, it’s time to set your project’s budget. Having accurate estimates will allow you to better prepare your budget and help you be able to get all work done in a cost-effective manner.
Determining your project’s budget requires the use of cost aggregation. This process involves adding the costs of each step of the project to get an overall cost figure.
Once this is done, you’ll want to establish both a contingency and a management reserve.
Your contingency reserve will be under the control of the project manager and will consist of funds allocated to manage estimated risks. This helps the project operate in the event your team is challenged with a risk as determined by your risk management plan.
In contrast, your management reserve will consist of funds that are designed to deal with unforeseen challenges. These are complications you did not account for in your risk management plan.
Both reserves help your project stay more-or-less on budget despite potential setbacks and challenges. Having proper contingency and management reserves is a vital aspect to any effective project management plan.
Step 9: Develop Project Management Plan
Your project management plan is, in many ways, a summation of the work we’ve discussed so far. It’s here that you will officially layout both the objective and the scope of the project.
You’ll also mention the deliverables you seek to offer, list any stakeholders, and define specific roles and responsibilities for your team.
Once this is done, your plan will also include your estimated project schedule of when work will be done, as well as discuss any risks you expect to encounter.
A complete project management plan should include:
- Project Objective
- Project Scope
- Project Deliverables
- List of Stakeholder
- Roles & Responsibilities
- Project Schedule
- Project Risk
Step 10: Plan Resource Management
For your project to be successful, you’ll need an effective resource management strategy. Resource management is the method by which you effectively acquire and use resources required to do your project.
Without the proper resources, you’ll be unable to execute your project as planned, so be sure to have a solid strategy in place for the acquisition, the development, and the use and management of all required resources.
This can be managed through hierarchical charts and a responsibility assignment matrix. Both of these methods help describe who does what work and what specific resources align with that role. A responsibility assignment matrix (RAM) is particularly useful in describing the goal of each individual team as well as well as any tasks they may have.
Step 11: Plan Quality Management
To be successful, you’ll need a quality management plan in place to measure and control the quality of the work being done.
Performing cost-benefit analyses is an integral part of any quality management plan, as it measures the potential costs and revenues of a specific action. This information is important because it can help tell you the most financially-beneficial aspects of your project—and subsequently where to put more effort into quality control.
In order to effectively manage project quality, design a testing and inspection plan that will allow you to control the quality of each aspect of your project. This involves the use of quality metrics that help to measure the quality of work done and compare it against work goals.
Step 12: Plan Risk Management
Finally, a risk management plan should be established to forecast potential risks your project may face. This is an important step in determining accurate budget estimates, as well as in establishing a contingency reserve.
A successful risk management plan works by performing a three-step process. When preparing for risks, you should:
- Identify Risks
- Perform a Risk Analysis
- Plan Risk Responses
Identifying risks refers to the process by which your team analyzes the project for possible risks or setbacks that may be faced. Your WBS should allow you to identify potential risks at every level of the project.
Once this is done, you’ll need to perform a risk analysis.
Risk analyses allow you to assess the chances that you will encounter a specific complication while working.
Once you have this information, work with your team to ensure that you have an appropriate plan in place to deal with the risk if encountered. In this step of the process, you’ll plan your risk responses so that your team knows what to do in case you do encounter one of your potential identified risks.
Project initiation and project planning are two important steps in the project management process. Having project initiation and project planning strategies in place can help streamline your project and prevent against future setbacks. Project planning, in particular, requires great attention to have the project completed without complications.
Project initiation and planning involve specific and targeted steps that work to build a solid project charter and project management plan. Agreements between you and your clients should be reached and all stakeholders identified before work commences.
Before starting your project, all parties should be aware of a specific project mission, as well as the project’s timeline, scope, costs, and the work involved.
By following the twelve steps above, you can effectively initiate and plan a successful project that meets the needs of all stakeholders.