Start the Trek with These Project Initiation Tips

Fiona Buttars, PMP

Manager, Professional Services

Fiona has managed projects including system selections, system implementations, data conversions, integrations, customizations, report development, database support, needs assessments, pricing studies, and customer behavior analysis.
October 03, 2023

I live on Vancouver Island and there are many beautiful walking and hiking options. I consider myself a casual hiker, meaning a typical hike for me is under two hours. There is a 10-kilometer hike called Coast Trail near me that follows the water’s edge with beautiful views of the ocean and Washington state across the Juan de Fuca Strait. This is a more challenging hike—5-to-6-hours one-way. My goal is to complete this hike, but I will most likely enjoy it more (and perhaps avoid some scrapes) if I gather some information first. This got me thinking that working up to this hike is a lot like project initiation. So, here are some tips to help get you started on your next project 

Charting Your Course 

So, where should you start? 

The success of a project is dependent on how you initiate it. Project initiation can be divided into two broad categories:  

  1. Gather information 
  2. Document information 

Trail Research 

Gathering information is critical to help you understand the project requirements. “Who, what, when, where, why, and how” is an excellent framework to gather information. 

For my hike, I may ask questions like: Who did they hike with? What part of the hike was most challenging? When in the year did they make the hike? Which location did they start from? How long did the hike take? 

For your project information gathering efforts, this same framework can apply: 

  • Who – Who are the key people involved? Who are the key stakeholders? 
  • What – What requirements need to be met? What is the summary budget? What are the high-level risks? What are the success factors? What are the assumptions? 
  • When – When will the work be done? When are the high-level summary milestone dates? Are there any high-level dates you need to avoid or work around? 
  • Where – Where will the work be done? Will it all be done remotely? Will the work be tied to a specific location? Or will it be a combination of both? 
  • Why – Why is this project being done? What is the vision, business case, and objectives? 
  • How – Are there any assumptions, constraints, or contract language that will dictate how the work will be done? 

To help you gather this information, leverage your network, including your colleagues! Speak with those who have a vested interest in the project and subject matter experts inside and outside of your organization. For example, if you need to implement an event management platform, then speak with event team staff as well as other teams who interact with events.  

You will also want to seek out others who have done similar projects, or those who have general project experience. Once you’ve compiled your initial information, the contribution of their insights will add value to your research. You can ask what they think is missing, what they’ve learned along the way, and what they would do differently. No need to re-invent the wheel when others have already been through it. 

Your Packing List 

Once you gather information, you can make a list of what you need. For my hike, my list will include water, a first-aid kit, energy bars, sunglasses, a hat, a jacket (for the unpredictable weather) among other things. The list can be used for reference if I make the hike again, for similar hikes, or to share with others who want to take it on. 

As you are gathering information, the most important thing is to document it in a structured way. For a structure, you can use the “who, what, when, where, why and how” framework. Then, share the information with those who will be involved and have an interest. This will help build a common understanding of what the project is trying to achieve and a clearer path ahead. This shared understanding will help with the next project planning steps. And if you want to take your project to the next level, I recommend you develop a project charter and stakeholder register.  

Your Map  

The project charter is a document that formally authorizes the project and acts like your high-level guide and map. A good project charter defines what the project is to accomplish, including high-level initial requirements, a business case, and the scope of work. 

Does your organization have a business case that explains why the project is worth the investment of time and money? If not, work with Leadership to outline the reasons why the project is worth it. The business case answers the core question—why are we doing this project?  

Beyond the business case, start with the known information. Has Leadership already outlined a vision or high-level objectives? For example, an objective to grow the annual donor base by 20% percentage over 3 years?   

Drilling down into department and team objectives is also important. A useful exercise is to speak with team members and ask about their individual team’s objectives, how they fit into the overall organization’s objectives, and how the project outcome will support these objectives.   

During these conversations, ask about success factors and risks. Questions like:  

  • What does success look like to you at the end of the project? 
  • What are your Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s)? How will you measure them? 
  • What are your top concerns? What are potential roadblocks to completing this project successfully? 

With these questions, you can gain valuable insights and better understand peoples’ perspectives and expectations.  

Project Initiation Tips:  

  • You want to capture information at a summary level or on a high-level basis. We will dive into further details in the next planning steps.  
  • You can also create a checklist for yourself to confirm if you’ve collected the information you need to populate a project charter. This can include organizational and team objectives, business case, project objectives, requirements, success factors, stakeholders, milestones, budget, assumptions, and risks. 

Your Fellow Trekkers 

When you document stakeholders, you dive deeper into the “who”. 

First, you want to make a list and identify all people, teams, departments, and organizations—both internal and external to your organization. Who are all the people who will be involved in this journey with you? Don’t forget to include people at your organization who are not directly involved in the project work but will provide input, buy-in, or support on a broader level or on specific topics. Remember to note vendors and third-party organizations who may have secondary roles, but often are responsible for some critical tasks. 

It’s helpful to ask people about their major requirements and main expectations and track them. For requirements, describe what people request or assume to be available in the product, service, or result. For expectations, describe what people will think will happen to them, their team, or organization as result of the project. This information will then help you determine what, how, and when to communicate with stakeholders. 

Project Initiation Tips:

Review your list with others and ask: 

  • Who is missing? 
  • Who could affect this project, either positively or negatively?  
  • Who has specific requirements or expectations of the project and what are they? 

Starting the Trek 

As American soprano Beverly Sills said, “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” This is true on a hike, and on any project. If you work through the steps to gather information, seek feedback, document, and then share this information you will be well on your way with your project initiation steps!   

Need an Expert Guide on your CRM Journey? 

Superb project initiation, planning and management is essential to ensure that your project is completed on time, on budget, with quality. From creating a project charter to developing a stakeholder register, JCA helps to provide the best outcomes to our clients—and it all starts with project management.

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