If a runner doesn’t come off the starting line strong, he doesn’t have a good chance of winning.

The PMBOK Guide identifies the starting line of the project life cycle as initiation and definition. In essence, this is the phase of the project when the business case for doing the work is made and consensus is reached regarding the scope of the effort. As an executive, if you can coach the people on your project teams to "push off" correctly without a misstep, you are ensuring every possibility for success. Part of initiating and defining a project is documenting the basic premises on which the customer’s expectations will be based.

Examples of these basic premises are
1) what are we producing?
2) what justifies the production of this deliverable?
3) for whom are we producing the deliverable?
4) what are the project parameters or time and cost targets?

More important than the document itself is the dialog among the project players to reach agreement on these points, and the analysis and logical thinking that goes into translating the information from that dialog into the initiation and definition document. Let’s assume that the initiation effort is completed.

There are seven steps that need to be performed in order to start a project correctly.
•= Step 1: Identify and define high-level business-related requirements, outcomes, and criteria for success.
•= Step 2: Define business justification for project.
•= Step 3: Clearly identify the stakeholders’ low-level needs and expectations including boundaries for project budget, duration, and risk.
•= Step 4: Define the role and authority of the project manager.
•= Step 5: Create a scope document that accurately represents the project size and specifics.
•= Step 6: Build consensus among stakeholders and obtain written approval from stakeholders.
•=Step 7: Generate a project plan for the next phase of the project.

I will focus here on the first ones:

Step 1: Using feedback and documentation created during the initiation phase, confirm in writing the expectations of the customer, including any or all of the following:
  • the background of this project – this might include a problem, an opportunity statement or strategic alignment, why the project is being initiated at this time (a business need, a customer request, technological advances, or a legal or regulatory requirement)
  • a high-level description of the deliverable from the project – what the product or service will look like or will be able to do
  • who will use it after it has been produced – who is the end-user?
  • the strategy for creating the deliverable, including any alternative approaches or recommendation
  • targeted completion date and rationale behind that date
  • budget available and basis on which that budget was determined
  • areas of risks that the project client is (or is not) willing to accept
  • priority of this project as it relates to all the other projects being performed within the organization
  • who the sponsor of the project is – who will provide direction and decisions?
  • constraints – those that are predetermined and those where the project manager has decision-making authority; for example, that the software will be purchased rather than developed internally
  • assumptions – for example, that resources will be available as needed

Step 2: Given the confirmed high-level scope definition from step 1 above and using basic cost/benefit techniques, document the business justification for this project, including the following:
  • benefits – tangible benefits expressed as savings and/or revenue, and intangible benefits such as improved morale •= future opportunities made possible by undertaking this project
  • developmental costs
  • recurring or ongoing costs
  • break-even point, return on investment...