Project Initiation Documents
Getting Your Project Off to a Great Start
Have you ever been part of a project where not everyone has the same view of where the project is heading? This lack of clarity can breed confusion: People start pulling in different directions, building up unrealistic expectations, and harboring unnecessary worries and fears. While it's normal as part of a project to put the detailed plans, controls and reporting mechanisms into place, how do you get everyone on the same page to start with?
This is accomplished by creating a Project Initiation Document (PID) – the top-level project planning document. In it, you bring together all of the information needed to get your project started, and communicate that key information to the project's stakeholders. With a well-put-together Project Initiation Document, you can let everyone understand where the project's heading from the outset.
Your Project Initiation Document does the following:
- Defines your project and its scope.
- Justifies your project.
- Secures funding for the project, if necessary.
- Defines the roles and responsibilities of project participants.
- Gives people the information they need to be productive and effective right from the start.
By creating a PID, you'll answer the questions: What? Why? Who? How? When?
You can also use a Project Charter instead of a Project Initiation Document for these purposes as they are very similar documents. However, a Project Charter usually has less detail. So a Project Initiation Document is more suited to projects where you have the resources to write a more detailed document.
The project management methodology that your organization uses may also determine whether you should use a Project Charter or a Project Initiation Document.
Constructing a PID
Although most project-driven organizations have their own templates for Project Initiation Documents, the information contained in those documents is often quite similar, despite variations in the terms used.
Here, we work through the most common sections, and look at the information that should be covered in each.
Start by downloading our free Project Initiation Document Checklist. Use this checklist to mark off each part of your PID as
you complete it – either on your corporate template or on a PID that you construct from scratch.
Note: Our checklist is for guidance only. In your situation, it may be appropriate to leave some items out and/or add others.
Section 1: What?
This section tells the reader what the project is seeking to achieve. In it, describe the problem that the project is seeking to solve, as well as a full definition of the project.
This section will typically cover the following topics:
What is the context of the project, and why is the work needed? Briefly describe the idea or problem, and discuss why this project is relevant and timely. The details will come later, so use this section to highlight briefly how this project came to be.
- Purpose: Why are you doing this work? Describe the desired end result of this project.
- Objectives: What specific outcomes will be achieved, and how will you measure these outcomes? Remember to limit the number of objectives for your project – four or five goals are typically enough.
- Scope: What are the boundaries for this project (for example, type of work, type of client, type of problem, geographic area covered)? List any areas excluded that you believe stakeholders
might assume are included, but are not. The more specific you are, the less opportunity there is for misunderstanding at a later stage in the project.
- Deliverables: What will the project deliver as outputs? Where you can, describe deliverables as tangible items like reports, products, or services. Remember to include a date that each
deliverable is expected. You'll use this information to monitor milestones.
- Constraints: What things must you take into consideration that will influence your deliverables and schedule? These are external variables that you cannot control but need to manage.
- Assumptions: What assumptions are you making at the start of the project? If necessary, schedule work to confirm these assumptions.
Section 2: Why?
Build a business case to show why your project is going ahead. Describe the effect the project will have on the business, and support this with a detailed account of the risks that should be considered.
- Benefits: Why are you carrying out this project, and what benefits do you expect it to deliver? Include information on how these benefits will be measured. For more on benefits management, click here.
- Options: What other courses of action were considered as this project was designed and developed?
- Cost and Timescale: Provide a breakdown of project costs and related financing.
- Cost/Benefit Analysis: How are the costs of the project balanced against the expected returns? For details of how to construct a cost/benefit analysis, click here.
- Risk Identification: Identify the risks within the project, and that you'll either need to manage or accept.
- Risk Prevention: Describe what you are going to do to mitigate or manage risks.
- Risk Management: Where you can't prevent risks, what are your contingency plans for dealing with them? What actions will you take should the risk materialize?
- Risk Monitoring: What processes do you have in place to routinely assess the risks associated with your project?
For more on how to identify and manage risk, click here.
Section 3: Who?
Describe how the project will be organized and managed. Identify reporting lines, and outline specific roles that will be filled. You need to be clear about staff roles so that you don't duplicate responsibilities, and so that everyone is clear about what's expected of them. If this is a long-term project, you may even consider developing job descriptions for team members.
Roles and Responsibilities
- Project Organization Chart/Structure: Create a diagram that shows the lines of authority and reporting for each project team member.
- Project Sponsor: Who has the ultimate authority and control over the project and its implementation?
- Project Manager: Who is the Project Manager, and what are his or her responsibilities?
- Project Team: Who are the key members of the project team? What are their roles and job descriptions? What are their phone numbers and email addresses? What is their original department or
organization? And to whom do they report to on a daily basis?
Section 4: How and When?
Provide broad information about how the project will be implemented. Outline how the project will roll out by defining timelines, resources, and management stages. This is a high-level
overview that will, as the project proceeds, be supported by more detailed project planning documents.
Initial Project Plan
- Assignments: What major tasks (with milestones) will be completed during the project?
- Schedule: Provide a report of the estimated time involved for the project. You've probably already prepared a high level Gantt chart or similar schedule, so the PID simply summarizes the
- Human Resources: How many days activity will be needed to complete the project? How many support staff will be needed? Will you need to bring more people onto the project team?
- Project Control: How will progress be monitored and communicated?
- Quality Control: How will the quality of deliverables be evaluated and monitored?
A Project Initiation Document is a guide to a project, clearly laying out the justification for a project, what its objectives will be, and how the project will be organized. This helps ensure that everyone knows what's going on right from the outset.
The amount of detail included should be sufficient for the reader to understand the basic purpose of the project and to determine, in principle, the overall feasibility of the project objectives and plan. The PID is supported by many detailed planning documents that may not be entirely completed by the time that the PID is prepared.
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