The Ultimate Project Initiation Checklist (and 11 ways to create a compelling project charter)
Have you ever wondered how some people consistently get new projects—and nail them every time? One of the most influential aspects of a project being approved is how well a project manager is able to create and follow a project initiation checklist. This checklist is often something they’ve developed over their time of pitching projects and is updated as they learn new tactics to get approval for their project requests. That takes a lot of work, and often, can result in many failed attempts before finally landing approval for your first big project. While the effort is commendable, we’ve put together a comprehensive project initiation checklist to get you started!
Before we get to that, let’s look at what makes up a great project initiation phase.
What Is Project Initiation?
Project initiation was originally introduced by the Project Management Institute, one of the largest non-profit membership associations. The project initiation phase is where you’ll create a proposal that includes all the details of your potential project. The details you choose to define and include during this stage will be the guiding force for your project – and how you’ll convince upper management to approve your project to begin.
This phase is one of the most important; once your project has been formally approved, it will set your team up for success in all the stages that follow. The information you gather and include in your project proposal will help you easily shift into the next phases of the project, having already determined many vital aspects. This will be the basis for how your project is navigated in the next phase.
The project initiation phase helps you generate a united understanding of the project goals, the benefits it will provide the company, how you’ve planned to achieve the project goals, who plays a vital role throughout the project lifetime, and the deliverables you will be providing upon completion.
Ultimately, your project initiation phase is where you will develop the guidebook for your project.
Why The Initiation Phase Of A Project Is Important
The initiation phase of your project is necessary to gain approval prior to beginning your project. This phase sets up the success of the stages that follow and determines the tone for the entire project before it begins.
The information you include in your project initiation documentation provides a wide range of benefits that positively impact the project at various stages. A strong project initiation will:
- Provide essential guidance for the team when the project enters the planning phase.
- Help keep the project on track and ensure it remains within the project’s defined scope.
- Minimize the costs of the project by setting a clear budget and working within it. By following a strict project initiation checklist, you’ll be able to pinpoint the most important aspects of the project. This will help you narrow down the list of necessary resources this project requires and all other cost-effective aspects of your project. This naturally decreases unnecessary work and resources required, reducing project costs overall.
- Maximize the efficiency of the project by creating a supporting document to steer the project through each phase of the project lifecycle.
- Promote transparency between management and stakeholders.
- Make the execution of the project more organized, leading to a smoother kick-off. This also provides significant support for the project’s planning phase, helping complete the next steps with ease.
- Gain the support of your company by offering them in-depth knowledge of your project. This knowledge will help your company be better prepared to release required funds and resources when they are needed, which also reduces the project timeline. It also provides cost-effective measures by limiting wasted time waiting for funding to be released and resources to be provided after the project has begun.
What To Do Before You Begin Your Project Initiation
Before you begin your project initiation, there are two important steps that will help increase your chances of successfully getting your proposed project approved. These steps also help you become more knowledgeable about the project from a different perspective than yours.
Meet With The Person Who Requested The Project – The Project Sponsor
It’s important to take time to meet with the person who requested the project. This could be your upper management, company executives, a client, or the CEO of the company. This person will have the most valuable insight into the project and will be a key person involved throughout its lifetime. The information they’re able to share with you about their intents, goals, and vision for the project is vital in your initiation process. Gaining this information will help you create a project proposal that reflects their needs while also considering the overall values and goals of your company.
Develop A Close Working Relationship With The Project Sponsor
In some cases, your contact person may be a liaison between the sponsor and yourself; however, in most cases, this is usually directly between the sponsor and you as the project manager. Creating a regularly occurring point of contact is essential in helping your project be approved and find success. This will give you opportunities to connect and have questions answered as they arise, and will help the project be recognized in the way the sponsor had envisioned. The project sponsor can also be vital in helping you overcome obstacles you may face throughout the project lifetime. They may also play a key role in advocating for you and your team throughout the entirety of the project, not just during the initiation phase. Maintain a strong working relationship with the project sponsor, or their contact, throughout the project’s lifetime.
A Typical Project Lifecycle
The project lifecycle was originally designed by the Project Management Institute and is the most widely used system globally. While a project can vary in complexity, the stages it moves through are similar throughout the majority of projects. There are five distinct phases included in this process.
1. Project Initiation
You will need to get your project concept approved to begin the project initiation. Once you’ve been approved to create a compelling outline to be considered, you’ll begin creating the documentation to support it in hopes to gain approval. This will include a project charter that includes key items to support your request (that’s coming up next).
2. Project Planning
In this phase, you’ll use the information gathered and agreed upon during the initiation phase to begin planning your project. Some of the steps involved in this phase include:
- How each deliverable will be broken down into varying tasks.
- Assigning tasks directly to each person on the team (matching skill sets).
- Defining roles and expectations.
- The creation of action plans to make your project a success.
3. Project Execution
This is when you officially begin working on the project and taking the actions defined in the planning stage. You will begin allocating resources and managing the project plan while it’s in action. This will include regular meetings, risk assessment, and problem-solving.
4. Monitoring And Controlling
During this phase, you will be actively tracking and responding to your project. This includes monitoring project costs, tracking employee efforts, and measuring the project’s progress through pre-determined milestones. It is essential that you have determined Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to support your project and help you monitor its progress throughout the lifetime of the project.
5. Project Closure
In the closing phase, you will hand over the final deliverables, have everyone sign off on their work, and host a closing meeting for the entire team. This is the time to request feedback, provide praise and recognition to your staff, and kickoff a celebration for the successful completion of the project.
What’s Included In The Project Initiation Phase Tasks
While project initiation may seem like the smallest step of all the project phases, it’s one of the most vital because this is the stage where the project bounds are decided and clearly defined. They will be the influencing factors for how the project will be planned in the following phase. With any project initiation, there are three important tasks that are included:
1. Create A Business Case
This is the document that is used to sell your project to the managing partners of your company. In order to create a higher chance of it successfully being approved, some vital items to include in your business case include:
- Your “why” for the projects.
Clearly define your reason for the project, and make it as compelling as possible. Ensure it reflects the company’s values and overall mission.
- A clear definition of the goals and objectives of the project.
This will include how this project’s goals align with the company’s and how it will support those goals being achieved.
- An estimated cost for the project.
Break this down into individual aspects where possible as well as what benefits each one will have on both the project and the company.
2. Complete Feasibility Testing
Feasibility testing is used by companies to protect themselves from increased project failures and helps them become more efficient with their resource allocation. By conducting a feasibility study, you will determine the likelihood of the success of your project. This usually involves looking at the project assumptions and constraints and outlining any potential risks it may face. During this task, you will want to consider available funding, staffing capacity, and your projected timeline. How realistic are these to the expectations of the project?
3. Create A Project Charter
The formation of the project charter is the final step in the initiation process. This is the phase where you will create a document that details the project in a deeper context. There is a range of items that will be included in your project charter that are meant to define the project in the most accurate and clear terms. While each step in the project initiation stage is important, creating a well-written project charter will have the most influence over how your upper management and stakeholders understand the project, which will be the ultimate determining factor in your project getting approved.
11 Essential Elements Of A Project Charter
A project charter is a document that breaks down the key elements of the project into clearly defined items to help upper management get a strong sense of the project. The details included are aimed to support your proposed budget and resource projections. It will also provide you with an opportunity to convince them this is a highly successful, well-designed, project that will benefit the company as a whole.
A project charter is typically one or two full pages, however, the complexity of your project will have a large influence over the length of it, and therefore it can be shorter or longer to reflect your project’s individual needs and level of detail. Once this charter has been completed, it will be given to the upper-level management to review and decide if your project will continue into the planning phase or if it’s unfeasible at this time.
The most important elements to include in your project charter include:
1. Key Stakeholders
This section of the document is often referred to as the “Stakeholder Management Strategy”. In this section, you will list all involved stakeholders, as well as their level of involvement in the project. Include the influence they will have in the project, as well as how the outcomes of the project may affect them. Determine how much information will be shared with stakeholders and review policies surrounding their involvement.
2. Project Scope
Your project scope will define the specific bounds of your project. When detailing the scope of your project include clear definitions of the project’s main objectives, expected deliverables, assumptions, and exclusions.
Defining the scope of your project clearly is beneficial in a variety of ways. First, it will help create a more predictable project with predetermined limits. Secondly, it minimizes costs by ensuring your project doesn’t cross over into other scopes, creating unnecessary tasks. Lastly, it will ensure all tasks align with the overall goals of the project and are necessary for creating the final deliverables.
3. Project Goals
Defining the project goals in a clear and detailed way because they will be highly influential in all other aspects of your project.
To make your goals highly successful, we recommend utilizing the SMART goal setting method. This will help ensure your goals are clearly defined, achievable and measurable. SMART goals include 5 key elements that make them particularly successful.
S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Attainable
R – Realistic
T – Time-bound
Creating goals that are specific helps make sure everyone on the team has the same understanding of the project goals as you. It removes the risk of a project being misinterpreted and falling off the rails.
By including predetermined measurement practices throughout your project, you’re able to track your project closely and respond to any issues in real-time. This also helps you ensure your project is on schedule and will meet the set deadline.
Reviewing your final goals before your project is sent for approval helps you ensure you’ve set goals that are achievable. While challenges are often welcomed, if the project doesn’t stand a chance at successfully meeting its goals, you’ll be left with a failed project and a devastated team.
During the goal review, it’s important to verify that the goals are relevant not only to your project sponsor’s vision but to the company’s foundational goals as well.
Finally, creating goals that adhere to a strict project completion date will help increase productivity in your team. This also ensures you can create a clear schedule to measure your project’s progress and successfully meet your goals.
Once you’ve created your goals, break them up into specific milestones. These will serve as natural forms of progress measurement throughout the lifetime of the project. Milestones help you ensure your project is on track and will provide you with early intervention opportunities if it has fallen behind schedule. If you do not include pre-determined milestones in your project, your project may be at risk of unexpectedly falling behind, with little time to intervene. This could lead to your team rushing during the project’s final stages due to unforeseen errors, needing to fast-track, or resulting in a missed deadline altogether.
5. Required Resources
Create a list of the necessary resources your team will need to complete this project. Include your minimum requirements, as well as a secondary list of highly desirable resources that may not be essential in completing the project. Ensure you include detailed explanations of how each resource would benefit the development and execution of the project to increase the rates of its success while minding expenses.
6. Project Team Members And Their Roles
Building a capable team is essential to the success of your project. When you begin considering who you would like on your team, look at the skills your project requires and who would be best suited to meet those needs. Use past performance to help you determine who would be a beneficial team member to this project. Additionally, consider your staff’s long-term goals within the company and decide if the project will serve in obtaining them. Taking these factors into consideration while designing your team will help you create a winning project team. Once you’ve determined who you would like included in your project team, create a brief outline of the role they will provide, and how that benefits the project.
7. Proposed Budget
When you settle on your estimated budget for this project, break it down into specific allocations. This will help you give the deciding parties a clear idea of where the money is expected to be spent, and include how these aspects will benefit the project (and company). This will help support your proposed budget. Additionally, it’s important to include alternative options that may be more cost-effective for consideration. Providing secondary budget options can sometimes help make your upper-management’s approval easier to obtain. Just make sure the budget is realistic and you don’t run the risk of exceeding it.
Clearly define what you will be providing at the end of the project.
What are you proposing your project will provide the stakeholders?
How will these deliverables support the values of the company?
The deliverables are high-value items and will be a highly influential part of your project being approved.
9. Expected Timeline
The length of a project can range from weeks to years, based on project complexity and type. This is a highly influential aspect of your project. It will tell your stakeholders when they can expect their deliverables – will this project find quick success, or will it provide periodic rewards throughout its lifetime? Include the milestones and proposed review periods for your stakeholders throughout the project timeline schedule. This will help your stakeholders get a better understanding of what your project is aiming to achieve and how you plan to use the requested time to successfully attain those goals. It also helps them feel confident in their involvement knowing they will have set times to review the project throughout its execution.
10. Measurement Processes
When you propose a project, it’s important to include predetermined measurement methods alongside it. This will help your stakeholders and upper management see that the project has been meticulously planned and is primed for success by keeping everything on track. Having a system to measure your project, whether at regular intervals or in the final phases will create a more dependable project that can be further used to influence future ones. This makes your project multifaceted, serving both as a potential benefit based on deliverables, and also as a surefire way to support the future projects the company will take on.
The types of measurement metrics you choose to use will be dependent on your individual project and its needs. One of the most typical project measurement tools is implementing KPIs (key performance indicators) which can be used throughout the lifetime of the project to measure its effectiveness.
11. Risk Factors And Preventative Measures
For this section, list out any potential risks your project may face throughout its lifetime. With each risk, include a brief description of the preventative measure you’ll put in place to protect your project (and the company) from them and any risk management steps necessary should a risk be realized.
Consider completing a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) to help you pinpoint areas of your project that would be more susceptible to risk. You can also use learning materials created from previous projects to help you determine potential risks. This will help you support your risk assessment and propose management procedures to help minimize the risk your project will face.
Your Easy-To-Use Project Initiation Checklist
Use this list to help determine the depth of your project initiation phase, and prompt additional aspects to be included in your next one. As you complete the project initiation phase, check off the items you’ve completed.
☐ Define the project’s purpose and goals
☐ Set key objectives
☐ Compare project goals to company goals
☐ Are they relevant?
☐ Are they aligned?
☐ Develop milestones
☐ Determine project scope
☐ List resources required
☐ Decide final deliverables
☐ Determine project assumptions
☐ List project benefits
☐ Complete cost evaluations
☐ Cost breakdown
☐ Alternative budget options
☐ Identify potential risks
☐ Create a proposed risk management plan
☐ Identify the members of your project team
☐ Project Sponsor (and liaison if applicable)
☐ Project Manager
☐ Team Members + Skill Sets
☐ Key stakeholders
☐ Determine roles and responsibilities
☐ Include predetermined performance measurement procedures
☐ Develop project timeline
Final Project Initiation Phase Task: Project Charter Review
Once you’ve finished developing your project charter, it’s time to review it before it’s finally submitted for approval. This process will involve all essential people taking part in the proposed project; the PMO Director, the project manager, the project sponsor, and all key stakeholders listed in your charter. Having these members involved in the project charter review helps ensure that everyone has the same understanding of the project’s desired outcomes and agrees on how its success will be realized.
This stage includes five steps to help refine the document before it’s signed off on to be released for final approval.
- The project charter is reviewed by both the project manager and the PMO, where any necessary changes are made.
- The project charter is marked as complete by the project manager and PMO
- The final copy of the project charter is shared with the project sponsor, stakeholders, and team members in a project meeting. All members included will review the document and voice any concerns.
- The project manager and PMO will make any necessary changes, following them up with another review meeting until the project is finally signed off on by all vital members.
- The project charter is officially complete and is ready to be submitted for approval!
Your Project’s Been Approved! Now What?
If you’ve done a good job with your project initiation and it’s been approved, you can begin taking action on your project plans. This is when you’ll begin putting your plans from the initiation phase into action and move through the project lifecycle: from planning to execution to control and monitoring to closing out the project!
This is the phase where you will begin taking action on the aspects included in your project initiation documentation.
At this time, you will begin planning your project’s timeline and schedule, and assigning tasks with clearly defined expectations. Being knowledgeable about the project is essential during this step, which makes the completed project charter particularly beneficial at this time.
While you move through the planning phase, you’ll want to create communication guidelines to help ensure your team is able to communicate in an effective and efficient way. You will also need to create a detailed project schedule that includes milestones, risk prediction, and individual task deadlines. This should be shared amongst the entire team to ensure everyone is on the same page and knows when their individual tasks are expected to be completed.
During the planning phase, it can be beneficial to include your team in the decision-making process. This can help you create a more productive atmosphere, increase team morale, and develop an execution plan that is reflective of your team.
Once you’ve finished planning your project, it’s time to host your project kick-off meeting. This is where you will officially begin working through the plan created in the previous step. It is essential that you monitor the progress of your project, and support your team in any way they require throughout the process. Check-in regularly, and involve the key stakeholders throughout the process as agreed upon in your initiation phase.
While many managers have their preferred systems, in this stage especially, the use of an online project management tool can be beneficial (see below).
Monitoring And Controlling Phase
While this step is listed as a follow-up to the execution phase, monitoring and controlling actually occur alongside the execution of the project. This phase helps ensure that deliverables are produced on time and meet all outlined expectations provided prior to the project beginning. This is when your pre-determined measurement metrics will be used, such as your KPIs. This will help you measure the progress of your project as it continues through the execution phase, allowing you to discover any errors that may have been made before they can have devastating impacts on the project.
Along with monitoring the progress of the project, it’s important for the project manager to track the costs the project has incurred in relation to the approved budget. If costs are not aligning with the projected amount, managers will need to step in and evaluate where the discrepancies are. This will help the project avoid exceeding its budget.
This is your final phase of the project lifecycle. In the project closure phase, you will finalize all aspects of the project. This will include a variety of items ranging from technical steps to tasks aimed at improving and maintaining team morale. Some of these tasks include:
- Reviewing the project outline and expectations
- Running any final tests
- Providing deliverables and having them signed off on
- Project reflection
- Documentation of important lessons learned throughout the project
- Holding accountability meetings
- Recognizing exceptional work
- Reviewing and editing growth and success plans for your team members
Lastly, during the project closure phase, it’s important to take time to celebrate the completion of the project with your team. This allows you to connect with your staff and reward them for their hard work. While this plays a vital role in boosting team morale, it also helps you create a stronger team with more stable support networks for future projects.
Excel In Your Next Project By Using An Online Management Tool
Using an online management tool can help bring your project to the next level. Using a multifaceted tool will help you connect and manage your team while being able to develop and plan your project all from one place. This can create a more efficient system for managers and employees alike. Including a highly capable management tool is becoming more important than ever as remote workplaces are on the rise. Include one in your next project and discover the higher productivity and ease of management it can bring to your team.
Proposing a new project can be a daunting task. While not every project may get approved, implementing a strong project initiation process can increase your potential for a successful review. Following a strict project initiation checklist will help you provide a well-rounded project recommendation that highlights your management capabilities, organization, and knowledge of the proposed project. This will position you to be a confident choice in your company’s next undertaking, allowing you to bring your project to life.