Initiating a project is where it all starts in PRINCE2®.
This is the phase where you start working out who is going to do what. You also put in place all the required elements to make sure the project goes smoothly.
The Initiating a Project process is designed to “establish solid foundations” according to the 2023 Managing Successful Projects official manual, also known as PRINCE2 7.
Essentially, this is the part where you make sure that everyone knows what they need to do and that there is a common agreement on the project objectives and the rationale for undertaking the work.
Getting clarity before you start
It’s important to get alignment and agreement before you commit to any dates or costs, and that’s the point of the Initiation phase. You’re trying to get clarity on:
- The reasons for doing the project
- The benefits of doing the project
- Any risks that you can add to the risk register now
- The scope and deliverables (or product description overviews)
- The costs and timelines
- Who should be involved and who should make decisions
- What quality looks like, what quality criteria you will be measuring and how.
In addition, there are some practical aspects to agree with everyone, like:
- How to manage risks and issues
- How to track progress and what to do when you go off track
- What baselines you’ll use and how to control them
- How you are going to communicate and who to (your stakeholders).
What gets done in Initiating a Project
There are a lot of management products i.e. documentation to set up in the Initiating a Project process, although if you have managed a project with PRINCE2® before you’ll just need to get out the versions you did for those projects and tweak them to suit this new one. There is no sense in reinventing the wheel.
There are seven things to do.
1. Agree tailoring requirements
The project manager is responsible for working out how to tailor the processes to fit the project.
Basically, this means looking at lessons learned from past projects and considering whether the project controls proposed are too big/not heavy enough/just right for the project and tweaking as necessary. Talk to the team as well as I’m sure they will have ideas about how they want to approach the work.
Then get approval for how you want to run the project from the board.
2. Agree management approaches
This activity means creating a lot of paperwork. As the project manager, you’ll be responsible for creating nine (count ’em) management approaches i.e. ways in which the work will be managed.
Come up with an approach for each of these:
- change management
- communication management
- sustainability management
- benefits management
- commercial management
- quality management
- risk management
- issue management
- digital and data management.
The manual says you will seek approval from the project board for each of these documents, but in reality you’ll probably use PMO tried-and-tested standards and templates and the board members will care very little about how you intend to run the project as long as they trust you.
3. Establish project controls
Next up, the project manager is responsible for establishing project controls.
Controls are the methods for management and keeping the work on track — the governance of running the project. They will be reviewed and checked during the project assurance process, which helps build confidence that the project is being run correctly.
Decide how many stages you want, whether you are going to use gate reviews, what tolerances are acceptable, how the project budget will be tracked and how you are going to escalate exceptions and issues.
Some of these might be built into your project tool; others will need to be managed through the project board.
4. Create the project plan
Next during the initiation stage, you create the project plan. Again, this is your responsibility, although you’ll need input from the project management team to do it. The stage plan for each project stage will drop out of the overall project plan as you move through the lifecycle.
You can either create a single document or link several other documents together in one. I prefer using one document that references other documents as then it’s easier to read and easier to use again as a template for the next project.
5. Prepare the business case
This step is where PRINCE2 7 deviates from other methods and approaches. Typically, in the olden days the project manager would be handed the business case and told to implement it.
PRINCE2 7 asks that the outline business case is reviewed and updated by the project manager in this stage. This work ensures that the project is still viable now you have more information.
6. Assemble the project initiation documentation
Yey, more paperwork! The project manager is accountable for putting the initiation documentation together. That means writing the PID (project initiation document) or whatever equivalent your PMO uses as a template.
The PID is a summary that links out to or mentions the other documents you have created, and brings all the info together in one place for authorization. If you already have a project brief or project mandate, you can use that as a starting point. The PID fleshes out the brief a little more.
I would also include role descriptions and the team structure in the PID too.
7. Request authorization to proceed
Finally, the project manager is responsible for requesting authorization for the project to move into the delivery stage.
The board then provides authority to proceed, and agrees to find the people and other resources required for the work to be done.
A RACI matrix is another way to display who is doing what – and it’s useful in this phase of the project.
So how do you actually make all this happen? Read my guide to how to kick off a project for your practical next steps.