project initiation

Project initiation: A key factor in your project’s success

Reading time: about 8 min

Projects play a critical role in delivering value and driving business forward. However, poor management and a lack of clear processes lead to wasted investment. In fact, organizations that don’t integrate strategic project management experience a 67% higher project failure rate.

In other words, successful project management relies on solid processes and methodology, and it’s important to get each step right. That’s where project initiation comes in. 

What is project initiation?

The project management initiation phase takes place before you move forward with a project idea or even make plans.

Project initiation is the first phase of a project lifecycle, as defined by the Project Management Institute (PMI). This is the stage where you identify the project, demonstrate why it’s needed, and gather essential stakeholder support. 

PMI outlines the five phases of project management

  1. Project initiation: Outline the scope and purpose of the project and secure buy-in.
  2. Project planning: Detail specific goals and create a project roadmap.
  3. Project execution: Follow the project plans to launch.
  4. Project performance: Monitor and assess effectiveness based on key performance indicators (KPIs).
  5. Project closure: Wrap the project and review.

During the project management initiation phase, project managers seek to answer three main questions:   

  • Why are we doing this project? What problem are we trying to solve? Why now?
     
  • What is the value this project will deliver? What are the goals or key deliverables? How will this project benefit the business?
     
  • Is it feasible? Based on the scope, budget, and resources available, can we feasibly execute this project and achieve our objectives? Do we have the necessary support from stakeholders including leaders and team members?

In other words, the initiation phase helps you determine the purpose of the project, why it is necessary, how it will benefit the business, and whether you have the resources to execute it successfully. 

Project initiation vs. project planning

Project initiation provides a high-level overview of the project’s purpose, goals, scope, and resources. The goal of project initiation is to demonstrate why a project is necessary and valuable in order to get the green light from stakeholders. 

Once you secure buy-in, project planning begins. Project initiation lays the groundwork for robust planning, so it's an important step. After all, it’s difficult to make plans when you don’t have clear direction or support from your key stakeholders. 

Project planning digs deeper to detail a full project roadmap complete with the project’s specific goals, deliverables, and KPIs. 

When you’ve completed both these steps, your project has a much higher chance of success.

Why the project management initiation phase is important

Project initiation isn’t an optional convenience. It’s a critical first step to launching a successful project. It sets the foundation for the decisions you need to make and provides the groundwork for outlining a robust project roadmap.

Think of project initiaton like your project’s “north star.” The direction of your project, the course it takes, and the decisions you make along the way are all dependent on this first step. 

Project initiation helps teams and project leaders: 

  • Maximize benefits and minimize costs.
  • Gain crucial buy-in from its onset.
  • Ensure the organization has the resources required for success.
  • Prevent and navigate roadblocks successfully.
  • Move forward confidently.

Starting your project off right: 5 steps to project initiation

So you have a project in mind. Now what? Follow these steps to get the green light and set the groundwork for a successful initiative.  

1. Make the business case

Once you identify a potential project, it’s time to start building your business case for it. This is essentially your project pitch. 

A business case provides a high-level summary of what your project is and how it will provide value to the business. It ties the project to strategic business goals, ensuring that the projects that the company invests in are aligned with the corporate strategy.  

The business case should outline:

  • The reasons for the project within the context of your organizational strategy
  • Alternative options you’ve considered and why you’re proposing this one
  • The benefits
  • Potential risks
  • Estimated costs

A solid business case will not only justify the proposed budget but will also help you gain support from senior leadership. The better you can illustrate a project’s value, the higher likelihood that you’ll get the necessary stakeholder approvals.     

2. Conduct a feasibility study

After you’ve gotten approval on the business case, it’s time to conduct a feasibility study. A feasibility study basically just evaluates the chances the project will be a success. The study identifies high-level project constraints and weighs them against the projected benefits to determine if the project is worth pursuing. 

The study answers two important questions: 

  • Do we have adequate resources to complete this project?
  • Is the return-on-investment (ROI) enough to make the project worth it?

If you can answer yes to both, you have strong evidence to support moving forward with the project. If you determine you don’t have the required resources or budget, you can return to the stakeholders to request more to support your case, referencing the feasibility study. And if the ROI is insufficient, the study also provides valuable information to reevaluate your options.

3. Create a project charter or project initiation document (PID)

If you determine the project is feasible, it’s time to build out a detailed project charter or PID. This is a comprehensive project document that outlines the project goals and purpose, the scope and budget, and key stakeholders and participants involved. 

Basically, it answers the “three Ws” of your project: 

  • What: What is the scope of the project and what are its objectives?
  • Who: Who are the stakeholders, team members, and/or customers that will be involved?
  • When: When does it need to be done? What does the timeline look like?

A thorough PID will also cover key information such as: 

  • Project deliverables
  • Dependencies and assumptions
  • Acceptance criteria
  • Risk factors
  • Required resources
  • Communication plan
  • Milestones
  • Quality management plan

The project charter provides the foundation for your project and a reference point to ensure decisions are aligned with business goals and project objectives. 

4. Identify key stakeholders and secure buy-in

A stakeholder is anyone who can impact or influence a project, either directly or indirectly. This includes team members, clients, customers, partners, and leadership, both internal and external. 

Stakeholders will have varying influence and involvement with your project. It’s important that you know how to effectively communicate with them, since they can severely impact the success of the project.

Conduct a stakeholder analysis to identify who all your stakeholders are. Then, categorize them based on their degree of influence and interest in the project, as well as their associated communication needs.

This will form the basis for your stakeholder communication strategy so ensure you are communicating with the right stakeholders at the right time throughout the project, keeping everyone aligned.

Understanding your stakeholders will also help you clarify expectations early on and gain consensus on decisions so the project can move forward as smoothly as possible. 

5. Assemble your team

With your project approved and stakeholders aligned, you can begin assembling your team. Your project charter will serve as a helpful guide in determining what skills and experience you’ll need to find success. This information will empower you to select the right people for the job. 

Assigning roles and responsibilities early in the project life cycle also helps align everyone early on and ensure accountability and transparency throughout the project. 

Nailing the project initiation 

As you can see, the project initiation phase is about more than just selecting a new project and running with it. A successful initiation is essential to gaining stakeholder approval and forming a strong foundation for the rest of your project.

In order to make the project initiation successful, project managers will need to effectively present their proposal and make the case for their project plans. But with so many moving parts, it can be difficult to sort through the noise and present ideas with confidence and clarity.  

Lucidspark can help.


Lucidspark is a virtual whiteboard that can help you take your project from idea to reality. Use Lucidspark throughout the project initiation phase to brainstorm ideas, organize project information, and map out stakeholders to gain context. Plus, Lucidspark’s extensive template library makes it easy to input data and share project plans with stakeholders to gain alignment and take your project to new heights.

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