Project managers emphasize scope definition and identification of stakeholders during the project Initiation phase. Then we manage them throughout the life of the project. The scope definition comes from the project sponsor(s). The project plan is built by detailing and elaborating the scope. Watch the video below to see a project team tackle scope definition.
The Project Initiation step is often crushed by executives who hysterically shout, “Get started quickly! We’ll plan when we have more time..this project is critical.” This hysteria saves them from having to commit to exactly what they want. Avoiding a commitment about what they want the project to deliver makes it easy to blame other people when the project fails. To be fair, however, the executive may not know what the project should produce. A person higher up the chain of command may have dumped the project in their lap.
Experienced project managers know the bitter consequences of skipping Project Initiation. They include scope creep, time wasted on pointless tasks and significant overruns. So experienced PMs try to stop the freight train and say, “Sir, if the project is that critical, we can’t take short cuts. We have to initiate the project properly. I certainly wouldn’t want to explain why we skipped the initial planning step if the project fails.” That approach works some of the time. Project Phases Main Page
A professional project initiation process for small or large projects addresses the following important decisions:
The sponsor tells the PM how he will measure the result of the project at the end. That is the scope of the project. It’s how will the sponsor will measure the success of the project. In other words, he defines a good job on the project with metrics (costs are reduced 23%, sales are up 10%, turnaround time is reduced 1.5 days, error rates are reduced 4%). The end result is the target the PM and team aim for. You will waste a lot of person hours if you don’t know the project’s scope.
With the scope defined you can talk about the path to reach it from where you are now. You define this path with measured deliverables. These are numbers that define success, just like the scope. Each deliverable must be a metric.
Next you breakdown each deliverable until you reach the level of a task that our team can deliver in less than two weeks.
The Project Initiation Drive-through
Failed projects are often initiated like the sponsor ordered at the drive-through window of a fast-food joint. In this situation, you, the project manager, can’t control the scope so the project finishes late and produces very little business value. Consistent project failure usually starts when PMs and sponsors initiate projects with fast food order-taking techniques. Let’s see how this order-taking process works.
The project manager stands at the drive-through window wearing a red and yellow cap that says “Projects Are Us.” The executive drives up in a shiny black car, stops at the drive-through window and says, “I want to clean up customer service by March 30th.”
The project manager nods eagerly, gives the executive the “thumbs up” signal and screams at the project team:
“You two, put some new software on the grill!”
“Dan, dump some training into the deep fry!”
“Monica, we need more service rep cubicles and new computers, now!”
The executive smiles, “Wow, you know how to manage a project; no needless meetings or endless paper work.”
The order-taker project manager gives the executive another toothy grin and says, “We are cranking and everything is in green light status. We’re already about half done.”
The executive leans back thinking, then says,”I’d like a network with 30 nano-second response time and 50 gigamondo disk drives. And…can we add mauve wall coverings in the computer room? How about multi-lingual training?”
The order-taker project manager grins and says, “No problem; we’re flexible. I can make any changes you want.”
The executive frowns, “I’m in a hurry, so speed it up.”
The order-taker project manager whirls and whispers to the project team, “Let’s go! Get something slapped together by the due date…we can tweak it later. Let’s get to it!” Then he smiles at the executive and gives the thumbs up sign.
The executive returns two weeks later and says, “Your crappy software doesn’t work. No one knows how to use it and the new computer room is a fire hazard. The customers are still howling about being on hold too long. That’s what I wanted fixed. This is another project disaster!”
Happy Executives at Project Initiation… or at the End of the Project
The sad thing about this order-taking technique for Project Initiation is that it makes some executives and users happy. When you initiate projects like this, you and the team start work quickly. Executives like that. They also like that they can avoid deciding exactly what they want the project to produce. That lets them off the hook for committing to the project scope. However, the odds are nearly zero of the PM delivering a successful project and having satisfied executives/users/customers when the project is complete. This order-taking approach begins a process that allows changes every week. Why is that? Because the order-taking process does not produce a scope definition that is objectively measured or controlled. Order-taking does not make the executives commit to what they want. Even worse, when the PM acts like an order-taker, that’s how the executives perceive them. So what is the best Project Initiation process?
The Best Practice for Project Initiation
First, you must abandon the order-taking process of listing vague requirements and starting work quickly. Instead, you must ask questions to learn enough about the executive’s business problem so you can help them define the project scope.
Executives who are not used to project managers asking questions may resent it. But a successful project manager responds to these objections with a reasonable statement like, “How can I deliver the business end result you want if I don’t know precisely what it is?”
Executives may not like that push back. But it’s worth some early executive dissatisfaction because it helps you define a measured business result for the project scope. It helps you avoid a list of ever-changing requirements. Let’s return to our story and see how to do this correctly.
How to Use the Best Practice for Project Initiation
The executive stops at the drive-through window and says, “I want to clean up customer service by March 30th.”
The project manager answers, “Exactly what result are you looking for?”
A flash of anger washes across the executive’s face, “Just get started. I’m in a hurry. When are you going to start work?”
The project manager says, “We’ll start immediately after I understand the results you’re looking for. What’s the result you want from the project?”
“I need better efficiency,” snaps the executive.
The PM says, “I understand. How much improvement in efficiency?”
The executive frowns in anger again, “Why are you asking all these questions instead of starting work?”
The PM politely responds, “Because you won’t be pleased with our work if it doesn’t help you achieve your objectives. So I need to know what they are. What amount of efficiency improvement do you need?”
“Enough to cut costs by 12% from the customer service department. We need training, new systems, new cubicles, etc,” the executive says.
“Well, if you want to have a 12% cost reduction by cutting staff, each customer service rep will have to be able to handle 12% more customer calls.”
The executive smiles, “Right. Then we could gradually let attrition reduce the staff. Now let’s get into the details of how to do that…”
Using this approach, the project manager avoided starting a project that was almost certain to fail. A results-focused approach to project initiation and planning produces benefits for the entire portfolio of projects. Learn more about how to initiate and plan projects.
Project failure rates top 70% in some organizations. Why is that? Here is the project management process in theory. First the project manager and sponsor define the scope in crystal clear terms that everyone understands. Then the project manager and team “just” execute the scope. What can go wrong? Lots! So much for the theory. Enterprise Project Management Main Page
We all know how projects should be initiated but they often aren’t done the right way. As a result, you, the project manager, must try to rescue these failing projects. In one situation, perhaps someone else did the planning and you are assigned to take over the execution phase. In another situation, perhaps the project is headed for disaster and you have been asked to save it. I hope that this post will help you successfully manage whatever project situation you’re given. Project Failure
Project Failure: How To Rescue It – Step #1
When you take over a project failure in process, your first and most important task is to understand the project’s scope. If you don’t know where the ship should go, you won’t be able to steer it. Also, if you don’t understand the scope, chances are you are not alone. The project team, stakeholders and even the project sponsor may not be able to define the scope. If you can’t “uncover” a solid scope statement, it is never to late to write one. Without a solid scope, you will have a hard time finishing what someone else started. I found it’s very useful to clearly state what is and what is not in the project’s scope. Make sure that at least you and the sponsor are crystal clear about what the project has to deliver. Project Rescue
Project Failure: How To Rescue It – Step #2
Next, you should try to locate the project charter and the stakeholder register. The project charter should tell you why you do what you do and what your boundaries are as a project manager. This is a very important document because you will have to maneuver the project around many obstacles. So you must know what the boundaries are. The stakeholder register is important because it lets you get in touch with the people who are most important to the project. The stakeholders are the people who are affected by the project and have an interest in its success.
Project Failure: How To Rescue It – Step #3
Third, introduce yourself to the major stakeholders and the project team. Make sure all of you have the same understanding of the project scope. Get the project team together and discuss the current status. This is also a good time to go over the project plan with the team. Once you know the scope, it is easier to spot weaknesses in the plan. It’s best if you go over the plan with the project team.
Project Failure: How To Rescue It – Step #4
Last but not least, if you and the team identify a major weakness, you should address it. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel, but you should listen to what the team, the stakeholders and the sponsor want to do differently. Project Catastrophes
Project Failure: How To Rescue It – Summary
Here is the bottom line: don’t shy away from accepting the challenge of rescuing a project failure. I urge you to start with the scope. Your job as the project manager is to keep the big picture in mind. If you have to turn a project around, you will find that most often the project failed because of scope creep or other scope-related issues. If you tackle the scope first, everything else will fall into place.
You can learn how to correctly manage the entire project process in our online project management courses. You’ll work privately with an expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish.
Project Charter Development happens during initiation. The project charter is presented at the end of the initiation and reviewed and hopefully approval by management. That approval authorizes the sponsoring project manager to begin detailed planning and to make use of corporate resources in that process. That’s not a go-ahead started project would rather to start the planning. The project charter includes at least the high-level scope, high-level risks and it appoints the project manager. The charter also can include estimates of the amount of resources and time which the project will take as well as explanation of the assumptions that are behind the scope of the project and the constraints that it faces. A good charter triggers a lot of discussion and occasionally conflict. But it’s much better to find out during initiation that some departments won’t lend you resources than after your 30% finished. Charter is a very useful device for avoiding surprises by surfacing potential conflicts at the beginning of the effort.
This is a lecture video on Develop Project Charter by Dick Billows, PMP, from the Initiation Process Group and the first process in the Integration Knowledge Area.
The Project Scope Statement is defined by the project sponsor. The project manager must ask the right questions to get the sponsor to clearly state the end result they want the project to deliver. It must be stated in measurable terms as acceptance criteria. Those criteria are the real definition of what the sponsor wants and how they will measure if the project is a success. Project Scope
Executives who are not used to project managers asking questions may resent it. But a successful project manager responds to the sponsor’s objections with a reasonable statement like, “I can’t deliver the business end result you want if I don’t know precisely what it is.”
Executives may not like that push back. But it is worth a bit of early executive dissatisfaction because it helps you define a measured business result for the project scope rather than a list of ever-changing requirements.
Project Scope Statement: The Sponsor’s Role
Another reason why the Project Scope Statement definition is not easy to get is because too many sponsors don’t know how to properly play their role in the project. During project planning, the sponsor’s role is to define the project in a statement of work (SOW), prove its value to the organization in a business case and define the scope statement. After they have completed those requirements, the sponsor’s role and their level of involvement declines. Then it consists of approving plans and any changes to those plans as well as accepting or rejecting project deliverables. Project Phases Main Page
In too many organizations, the project sponsor role is poorly played. Instead of defining the Project Scope Statement that will drive the project to a successful end, many sponsors do destructive things. Some play cat and mouse games with the project manager, refusing to commit to exactly what they want. They may do this because they don’t actually know what business result they want the project to deliver. So they are unable to define the scope. Or they are vague because they want to be able to avoid blame if the project fails. They can say, “That’s not what I wanted the project to deliver.”
Either way, this behavior dooms the project to failure. It drifts from one goal to another while the project manager and team members try to figure out what the sponsor really wants. They often find out a month before the due date (which the sponsor has arbitrarily set). That sets off the “end of project panic” which is also caused by sponsors who don’t know their proper role. The PM and team frantically try to produce something close to what the sponsor now says he/she wants. It’s not a surprise that what the team produces has no value. So they will spend the next six months trying to fix it. Bad sponsors leave a trail of these project failures in their wake. That’s how you can spot them… and, hopefully, avoid managing their projects. Project Scope
You can learn these techniques for defining the project scope statement in our customized, online courses. You work individually with your instructor and have as many phone calls and video conferences as you need. The Project Management Basics course, #101, teaches you a step-by-step process and how to use MS Project® software to make your job easier.
At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing, or construction, or healthcare, or consulting. That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.
The project launch meeting is an opportunity for you, the project manager, and the sponsor to build enthusiasm for the project among the project team and the project stakeholders. The team members are the people who will be doing the project work. The stakeholders are the people affected by the project. Other attendees are managers affected by the deliverables the project produces. Vendors who do contract work on the project may be included as well. Keep in mind that some of the attendees might be people who are not in favor of your project because it is using resources they need elsewhere. Instead of dreading this meeting, you should view it as an opportunity to convert people who are neutral or opposed to the project. It is also an opportunity to increase the level of enthusiasm of the people who now support the project.
Unfortunately, the launch meeting is often just a series of long speeches about teamwork, sharing and supporting each other. No one in the room believes that hype. These lofty speeches don’t build morale. They tend to undermine it because the opening discussion is full of phony sentiments and, sometimes, outright lies. Good project managers don’t give speeches about teamwork, honesty and supporting each other. They communicate those characteristics by their actions. This takes more time but it’s much more believable and valuable.
In the launch meeting, you communicate information about your carefully developed plan. You state the major deliverables of the project and the overall benefit to the organization. The project launch meeting is not the time to threaten team members with dire consequences if they are late on their assignments. Those threats convince the team that their number one goal is to avoid blame when the project fails. That sort of attitude is crippling for a project. Team members who think the project will fail do not give you their best efforts.
Project Launch: Meeting Agenda
Here is the information to cover in the project launch meeting:
Project Launch: Meeting Attendees
These people should attend the launch meeting:
Project team members
Major project stakeholders
The project launch meeting signifies the end of the project planning phase and the beginning of the executing and monitoring/controlling phases. You must make sure that by the end of this meeting, the team members understand how the tasks they will work on fit into the big picture, the project scope. You also want to build enthusiasm and commitment to the project among the team members and stakeholders.
Learn how to run a project launch meeting in our training seminars for clients or our instructor-led online courses for individuals.
Cost-benefit analysis is a simple technique for comparing the business value a project will produce with the cost of producing it. Project managers use cost-benefit analysis in the project initiation phase to show the value of doing a project. During project initiation, the sponsor and project manager must justify the project to get the organization’s approval to spend the money. The cost-benefit analysis compares the project’s costs to the business value it will deliver. Few organizations want to go ahead with projects that will cost more than the value they will produce. So project managers conduct the cost-benefit analysis by gathering data on the value of the benefits and the cost of the project.
Cost-benefit Analysis: Examples
Let’s say you determined that the benefits produced by the project would be worth $15,000. And you calculated the cost of producing those benefits at $10,000. Then you would divide the benefits (15,000) by the costs (10,000) and calculate the cost-benefit ratio of 1.5.
Many organizations have rules about what cost-benefit relationship the project must produce for gain approval. In some organizations, new projects must have a cost-benefit ratio of 1.2 to be approved. That means the benefits of the project exceed the costs by 20%. From an external point of view, a project that pays back its costs plus 20% of its costs sounds like a pretty good investment. Other organizations use higher or lower cost benefit ratios.
In a cost-benefit analysis, you compare the dollar value of the cost of a project, a deliverable or a change request to the dollar value of the benefits you expect it to produce. Here is another example. You may calculate a project will produce benefits worth $290,000 and will cost $272,500. So it’s benefits exceed its costs by $17,500 or 6%. Cost-benefit analysis on a small project is as simple as dividing the benefits by the costs to calculate the benefit-to-cost ratio: 290,000/272,500 = 1.06.
You can use cost-benefit analysis to test a particular alternative or compare several alternatives. It is usually a very simple process to come up with the cost of an alternative. You have access to list prices for equipment, materials and labor rates for people’s time. This is not to say there are never disputes about the costs. But the data is usually readily available.
You can also make the cost-benefit analysis more advanced by making comparisons over time and by adding elements such as the net present value of the benefits or the cost of cash flow.
Cost-benefit Analysis: Foundation for Calculations
The cost-benefit analysis is also the foundation for these calculations:
The details of these calculations will be subjects for later discussions.
Cost-benefit Analysis: The Tricky Part
Whatever level of sophistication the organization prefers, the difficult part of a cost-benefit analysis is coming up with quantified measures of the benefit of a project or an alternative. The computation is simpler when the benefits come from cost savings. But it is much more difficult to put a dollar figure on the benefits when they are in the form of increased customer satisfaction or improved employee satisfaction. In fact, it is usually the benefit part of a cost-benefit analysis that is the source of conflict and disagreement.
Consider our online project management courses to learn how to use all the tools and techniques of project management. You’ll work privately with an expert project manager as your instructor and coach. You begin when you wish and control the pace and schedule. You can have as many phone calls and live video conferences with your instructor as you wish. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.
In many organizations, 60% to 70% of the projects finish late, over budget and/or fail to deliver much value. Not using a Statement of Work – SOW during the project initiation is a major cause of project failure. Project Phases Main Page
The project sponsor or customer issues the Statement of Work. It is their first communication to the project manager about what the project should deliver. It also describes what resources the project can consume to deliver it. The Statement of Work – SOW defines the deliverables. The sponsor should define the scope with the acceptance criteria that measures the project’s success. A Statement of Work can include the following (as well as other items):
Business Purpose: This includes a link to the company strategy
Scope of work: A short narrative definition and the quantified acceptance criteria
Location of Work: Describes where the project manager and team will do the work
Period of Performance: Specifies the start and finish time frame
Deliverables Schedule: Lists and describes what is due and when
Budget – The largest amount the project manager can spend to produce the required deliverables
Type of Contract/Payment Schedule: The project acceptance will depend on whether the budget available will be enough to cover the work required.
A New Project Without a Statement of Work – SOW
People get excited about implementing a new idea or about solving a new problem. All of the discussion is about the project finish date and all the things they must do. Particular attention is paid to the tasks they must do first. Everyone wants to talk about what to do first because they can immediately start work on them. They don’t take the time to decide what business outcome the project must deliver. They also don’t define the specific acceptance criteria they’ll use for the project’s deliverables. In other words, they don’t prepare a Statement of Work – SOW.
In many organizations, there is no thorough decision-making process. No one makes any decisions or commitments before people start work on the first few tasks. The project has little chance for success if the project starts without the sponsor specifying exactly what he/she wants. They must also specify what is “good enough.” “Good enough” defines how the sponsor will measure the project’s success. Here is an example. A goal of 100% accuracy on billing statements is a difficult and expensive achievement. But the goal of 90% accuracy is “good enough” because it is a 15% improvement over the current accuracy rate. Without the specifics of what the sponsor wants and how he/she will measure success, senior management can’t decide if they should approve the project’s initiation. Additionally, no one is committed to the project’s success. That’s because they don’t know exactly what the project must deliver to be considered a success.
Statement of Work – SOW Solution
The organization can fix this problem by requiring that the project sponsor complete a Statement of Work – SOW for every project before work can begin. The Statement of Work is the sponsor’s (not the project manager’s) commitment to the organization about what he/she will deliver for the resources they will spend. The Statement of Work supports senior management’s control over the initiation of projects. It ensures there are resources available to work on the organization’s major strategic initiatives. When project sponsors use the Statement of Work – SOW properly, they set measurable goals and decide what to include and, as importantly, what to exclude from the project.
To learn more about how to work with the project sponsor or customer to create the Statement of Work – SOW, consider our online project management courses. You work privately with an expert project manager who is your coach and instructor. You may begin a course when you wish and work on it at your pace and as your schedule allows. You and your instructor have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.
Project launch, also called project initiation, is a critical phase of every project. If it is not done properly, the odds of the project’s success drop significantly. The purpose of the launch/initiation meeting is to build team member and stakeholder enthusiasm for the project. The project manager must also communicate the key strategic issues for the organization that this project will address.
Project Launch Video Synopsis
This video starts with the project sponsor calling the meeting to order and giving a brief description of what the project will produce. The sponsor makes threats to the project team about what will happen if they finish late. He also argues with one of the key team members about the special packaging that will be required for the new product. As the sponsor and the team member start to argue, the project manager interrupts and suggests a way out of the problem.
The sponsor then threatens punishment if the project is late. The project manager steps in and explains to the sponsor that his threats and attempts to lower the team’s estimates will not make the project finish on time or early. The project manager wins the debate but the angry sponsor may take up the issue with the VP.
In this video, watch how the project manager politely but firmly stood up to a terrible sponsor. She knew she had to stop the sponsor’s bad behavior during the project launch/initiation phase. If she didn’t, it would continue throughout the entire project and lead to failure. She took responsibility for the project’s performance but would not commit to a completion date without a clear scope statement and information about the resources available for the project. She did a great job defending the team members to the sponsor but she made it clear that their assignments would be stated as measurable business results.
At the end of the video, watch private interviews with the project manager and team members and learn how they felt about what happened during the launch meeting.
You can learn the steps in a proven project methodology from launch through planning, scheduling, tracking and reporting in our online project management basics courses. You work privately with an expert project manager who is your instructor and coach. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences with them as you wish. Take a look at the course in your specialty.
Too often project managers get lost in the minutia and don’t have strategic vision for the project. They don’t see the big picture of how the project deliverables will affect the organization as a whole. In our work with over 300 organizations, this is one of the biggest concerns that client executives have about project managers. That is particularly true of project managers with an engineering or software orientation. The executives’ concern is that the project manager does not see the customer or the product or the larger organization. Instead they dive headfirst into the barrel of technical details.
It’s important to understand your project’s role in the organization’s top level strategy for reaching its goals. This is true whether you’re assuming ownership of a project that’s underway or starting one from scratch, Without that strategic vision, your project runs the risk of satisfying its own ends but disappointing the organization and/or the sponsors that supported it. And that’s not a good thing.
Sources of Strategic Vision
So how do you apply strategic vision at the project level and see the big picture? As a project manager, you need to have a good grasp of your organization’s long-term goals. Your project charter should provide that linkage and you may want to clarify that in the project plan by directly describing how the project’s desired outcome supports the strategic goal(s). If this connection is not made or isn’t clear, you may be only a few well-intended—but unfortunate—decisions away from providing results that don’t meet the project sponsor’s intent.
Questions to Gain Strategic Vision
You should ask yourself the following simple questions and keep them in mind as you execute your project. They will help you maintain that strategic vision and keep your project on track.
1. Exactly how does my project support the organization’s strategic goals? How do the project’s requirements and deliverables relate to the strategic goals? Consider how much flexibility the deliverables can bear before they no longer support the goal(s). You may even establish a threshold beyond which the project should be reassessed and/or revised.
2. How will my project’s success be determined? Success criteria should be spelled out in your scope statement. If set correctly, success criteria directly support the desired business outcome of your project. By extension, they support the sponsor’s strategic goals. If you must adjust success criteria due to approved requirements changes, make sure this linkage to success criteria, desired business outcome, and strategic goals remains intact.
3. Where does my project fit in the organization’s strategic activities? View your project from the outside. From a broad, strategic perspective, how does your project align with other projects addressing the same or related goals? There are both benefits to be gained and pitfalls to be avoided from this exercise. For example, you may discover the potential for synergy with another project, or at least opportunities for mutual support of a strategic goal. But you may also discover redundancy or interdependencies that must be acknowledged and dealt with. At a minimum, you will gain valuable insight into the tactical role your project plays in supporting the overall strategic goals of the organization.
4. What is the long-view of my project? As project managers, we often become mired in the here-and-now issues that demand our immediate attention. Without meaning to, we may lose the ability to see our project in the long-term and not recognize when we have strayed from our core purpose. It is important, maybe even critical, to allow yourself time now and again to look far downrange and make sure that the course you are on isn’t leading to the wrong destination.
5. Do I truly understand my project’s cause and effect relationships? By dwelling too much on low level management of daily project operations, it’s easy to miss or underappreciate cause and effect relationships that stretch beyond that myopic perspective. Problems you’re dealing with today may have roots far in the past, maybe even preceding your appearance in the project. As a project manager with “strategic vision,” you’ll have the ability to step back and understand the full scope of that relationship. That will allow you to address it appropriately.