As a famous quote says, “Ideas don’t come out fully formed, they only become clearer as you work on them. You just have to get started.” How you begin any new project is important to its success in the future. Starting from determining the scope, estimations, assigning the needed resources, briefing the team, client meetings and coordination—there’s a plethora of activities and milestones that decide how your project develops. For setting up your project for success, you need to create a well-thought-of project initiation checklist so that you can start the project correctly and without missing any critical elements. But before we proceed further to discuss this project initiation checklist, let’s understand what is meant by the project initiation phase.
The Project Initiation Phase
If we talk about the lifecycle of any project, the phase where a project begins is called project initiation. The project lifecycle usually has five steps: Initiation, project planning, development or execution, monitoring and controlling, and final delivery or closure. The first phase or the initiation phase is where you kick off the project with your team and stakeholders, or clients being present. You can gather information before initiation from the request for proposal (RFP) stage, through questionnaires from the client, research, etc. This data helps in defining the project scope, requirements, cost, and timelines. In the project initiation phase, you start with identifying all the stakeholders, determining who will be the team members, and defining your objectives and deliverables.
Project Initiation Checklist
In layman’s language, the project initiation checklist is like the foundation or groundwork for any project. If this document is robust, then you are less likely to face major challenges or for your project to get derailed. The project initiation checklist includes details of all tasks and activities that will be completed during the lifecycle of the project, how those activities will be performed, the timelines and milestones, within what budget will those tasks be performed, and the established quality standards. In project management terms, the project initiation checklist includes:
- Start with defining the project’s goals
- Establish project’s key objectives
- Determine detailed project scope and what is not in scope
- Compare the project’s goals to organizational goals to see if they align
- Resource requirements including employees, budget, time, skills, etc.
- Determine the project team, project manager and their roles
- List of all stakeholders – internal and external
- Decide the project’s sponsor (and liaison, in case applicable)
- Make a detailed communication plan
- Determine milestones in the project
- Decide the project cost or budget and alternative budget options
- Decide project’s final deliverables
- Establish project assumptions
- Determine the timelines and project plan and acceptance criteria
- Tools and structures – including project methodology, project management tools, resource planning tools, licenses required, etc.
- Complete cost evaluations and cost breakdown
- Risk analysis – identification, mitigation planning, and funding
- Reports, metrics, and key performance indicators (KPIs)
- List all the project benefits
How to Create a Robust Project Initiation Checklist?
To create a robust project initiation checklist, you need to follow these steps:
- Substantiate the project charter
The first step to creating a project initiation checklist is to get the project charter validated or approved by all the stakeholders. The project charter is like an elevator pitch that defines all key aspects of the project. For example, the project objective, what is in scope, and the milestones and final deliverables. Therefore, when the project is kick-started, all the major stakeholders must agree on the important aspects. This should be done before you do the estimations of all the requirements, to avoid any loopholes or conflicts at a later stage.
- Identify the project stakeholders
For any project, you would also need to identify the relevant stakeholders. A stakeholder could be an individual or a few individuals who own the project or are directly or indirectly impacted if the project succeeds or fails. Also, stakeholders usually have the rights to make amendments in the project schedule, design, or strategies and provide approval or feedback to the end product. Thus, after validating the project charter and defining the scope, the next step should be to find the stakeholders for the project. Once you do this, you can decide who to involve at various project milestones, meetings, etc. For example, your client is the key stakeholder who must be involved at every phase or project milestone status meeting. This ensures that the project and the stakeholders’ expectations are aligned. Moreover, it also reduces any risk of miscommunication or slip-ups.
- Define project objectives and deliverables
The next important thing is to document the key goals or objectives of the project. This is important to do in the initiation phase so that the team can get a clear direction to execute the project. The project manager should ensure that they define SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound) objectives and not some vague goals. This ensures that the project objectives are realistic and enable the team to measure their performance against them. In addition, the project initiation checklist must specify the project deliverables or final output. This helps the client and all stakeholders to make sure that the final deliverables are as per their expectations and aligned with the organizational goals.
- Evaluate all the risks related to the project
You may have planned impeccably for the project; however, anything can go wrong and derail your plan. Having said that, most of the risks can be averted if identified well in time. For that, it is imperative to identify and mention all the risks related to the project in the project initiation checklist. Some common risks across projects are related to project cost, schedule, scope, etc. For example, if the client adds some requirement in the project deliverable at the end of the lifecycle, then it may lead to scope creep as you may not have estimated the effort for it. Or if some important resource goes on unplanned leave, then you may have unforeseen resourcing issues that may add to the total cost. Therefore, mentioning all possible risks associated with a project helps you be prepared and nothing comes as a shock. Moreover, specifying these risks enables you to determine a risk mitigation plan well ahead of time.
- Identify the right resources for the main roles
Finding the most important resources who possess the needed skills and expertise for the job is one of the most important steps in project initiation. After you are sure of what skill set, experience, and competency are required for the role, you can go ahead and make resource requests to the HR team on time. For example, if you would need developers or programmers, graphic designers, or instructional designers for your project, you need to provide the competencies and number of people needed in each role. If the resource requisition is raised on time and the right resources join the team, you can easily achieve the target in the designated timeline.
- Set the project milestones
A milestone or a phase in a project is a specific stage in a project’s lifecycle. The project initiation checklist must include all the major milestones or phases of the project so that it becomes easier to execute and monitor the status and progress at regular intervals. Moreover, it helps project managers and the team to complete their designated tasks within the timeline. Having the milestones also enables the managers to monitor the project progress and take requisite steps to make corrections in case of any deviation.
- Set key performance indicators (KPIs) for better assessment
The next critical step in a project is how you measure its performance and understand if it’s progressing in the right direction. Hence, managers need to establish the KPIs to gain insights into the progress and make well-informed decisions. For instance, an important KPI could be planned vs. actual effort or planned vs. actual cost, which can easily show any variance or budget overruns. Moreover, you must ensure that these KPIs align with the objectives of the project and the organizational strategy.
Now, you know what a project initiation checklist is and how you can create one. Let’s look at some best practices or top tips to make this checklist accurately.
Top 10 Tips to Remember While Creating a Project Initiation Checklist
- Set the right tone for your project in the initial stage.
- Decide the project team who have the right skill set and involve them right from the start.
- Set a clear communication plan and workflow design.
- Involve the client early on too and keep sharing status with them on regular basis.
- Ensure clear communications are happening with the client and all stakeholders.
- Make sure you have established the success criteria and details of the final deliverable.
- Try to set up a face-to-face meeting once before the project kicks off or if not possible at all, set up a video call to form a connection.
- Decide a clear agenda for the kick-off call and follow it precisely.
- Future-proof the project by analyzing any possible risks and dependencies.
- Think ahead and plan for all milestones precisely.
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