Goal: Initiate a project

The planning phase of a project can span a significant length of time and involve many people, so it is important to define the project's objectives, assumptions, and constraints. The planning phase is also the time to prepare a scope management plan for handling changes to the project's objectives.

For small projects, it may not be necessary to write complete documents for others to review. However, the guidelines in this article will be useful when you write notes about the project for your own records.

Tip: This article is part of a series of articles within the Project Map that describe a broad set of project management activities. We call these activities "goals" because they are organized around the project management life cycle: Build a plan, track and manage a project, and close a project.

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User Goal art--Initiate Project

number 1  Define your project objectives     Clear project objectives are crucial because your project's success will be determined by how closely you meet the objectives.


A clear project objective is both specific and measurable. Avoid vague objectives such as "Create state-of-the-art deliverables." A project's objectives may include:

  • A list of project deliverables.

  • Specific due dates, both for the ultimate completion of the project and for intermediate milestones.

  • Specific quality criteria that the deliverables must meet.

  • Cost limits that the project must not exceed.

For objectives to be effective, all project stakeholders as well as sponsors, who are funding the project, must officially agree to the objectives. Often the project manager creates an objectives document that becomes a permanent part of the project.

If the document was created in a program other than Microsoft Office Project 2007, such as Microsoft Office Word 2007 or Microsoft Office OneNote 2007, you can attach the document to your project file for easy access.

If you are using Microsoft Office Project Web Access 2007, you can easily upload supporting documents at the start of a project. This is useful if your team doesn't have a shared folder or Web site that contains information that is relevant to projects or other corporate endeavors.

If you are using Microsoft Office Project Portfolio Server 2007, you can also upload documents. In addition, you can track projects through initiation and the approval process before you implement them. As new projects are initiated, you can assess them against the goals of the organization.

Note: You can also place project-level information in the Comments box of the Properties dialog box for a project. This helps you to locate documents and projects after a project begins.

Number 2  Identify your project assumptions     During the planning stage of a project, you probably will have many important, unanswered questions. For example, when will key resources be available to start work? And how much time will a new process take?


To begin planning, you make educated guesses and then use those estimates to create your schedule.

It is important to keep track of the assumptions you make, so that:

  • Project stakeholders and sponsors can critique the assumptions and then formally agree to a set of project assumptions.

  • You can update the schedule when you have additional information about these factors.

Consider these project areas when you identify your underlying assumptions:

  • Handoffs from other projects or departments: If your project depends on the work of others, do they understand your dependency and agree to the handoff dates?

  • Resource availability and usage (including people, materials, and equipment): If you do not manage some of the people who are working on your project, who does? And has that person approved your use of these resources?

  • Task durations: Are your task estimates based on solid information or guesses?

  • Project costs: How important is cost to your project? Who is required to approve your budget or increase it if necessary?

  • Available time: If you are working toward a known deadline, can you realistically complete all tasks with an acceptable level of quality?

  • Deliverables: Does your list of project dependencies and deliverables match what the customers and other stakeholders expect? If you must compromise on a deliverable, have your stakeholders agreed on what aspects of the deliverable would be compromised first?

These are just a few issues to consider before you begin any complex project. The ultimate success of the project depends on identifying assumptions and making backup plans as much as it does on carrying out what you planned.

The 2007 Microsoft Office system offers a number of software solutions that you can use to help you understand a project's complexities before you begin working with Project. For example, you can create a complex cross-functional flowchart or a blog to capture team members' ideas as they brainstorm project plans.

Number 3  Identify your project constraints     Constraints on a project are factors that are likely to limit the project manager's options.


Typically, the three major constraints are:

  • Schedule, such as a fixed end date or a deadline date for a major milestone.

  • Resources, such as a predefined budget.

  • Scope, such as a requirement that three models of the product be developed.

A change in one of these constraints usually affects the other two and can affect overall quality.

For example, decreasing the project duration (schedule) may increase the number of workers you will need (resources) and reduce the number of features that can be included in the product (scope).

The project manager then determines whether this trade-off is acceptable. This concept is called "the triple constraints of project management" or "the project triangle."

During the planning process, list your project's constraints to ensure that all project stakeholders are aware of them and have the opportunity to comment on the list.

It is also worthwhile for stakeholders to agree on how to respond to unexpected constraints that arise during the project.

For example, if labor costs turn out to be higher than anticipated, stakeholders may be willing to reduce the scope of the project in specific, predefined ways.

Note: In Project, the word "constraint" means a restriction or limitation that you set on a task. For example, you can specify that a task must start on a particular date or finish no later than a particular date.

Number 4  Prepare a scope management plan     After you identify your project's objectives, assumptions, and constraints, you are ready to draft a scope management plan.


The project's scope is the combination of all project objectives and tasks and the work that is required to accomplish them.

The scope management plan is a document that describes how the project scope will be managed and how any changes in the scope will be integrated into the project.

This plan is helpful because project teams often must adjust their objectives during a project.

A scope management plan may include:

  • An assessment of how likely the scope is to change, how often, and by how much.

  • A description of how any scope changes will be identified and classified.

    For example, in a construction project, you may decide that the work crew leader can approve the work if the client requests a design change that will cost under $1,000, but if the change will cost more than that, the project manager and client must reevaluate the scope of the project in terms of cost, resources, and other factors.

  • A plan for what to do when a scope change is identified (for example, notify the sponsor and issue a contract change order).

A well-prepared scope management plan can serve as the basis for your project's contingency plan.

Although you can create a scope management plan with Project, project managers typically create them with other programs, such as Word 2007 or OneNote 2007.

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