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3 - Starting a project


  • Select the right people for Project Board and Project Manager roles (not done by Project Manager)
  • Do the minimum necessary to find out if the project is worthwhile and viable
  • Select the project approach
  • Plan the work required for the Project Initiation stage


  • Capture previous lessons
  • Prepare the outline Business Case
  • Plan the initiation stage


  • Business Case

Other important documents for larger projects:

  • Role descriptions of Sponsor, Senior User(s), Senior Supplier(s)
  • Benefits Review Plan
  • Lessons Log

One of the first questions it is important to answer is ‘Do we have a viable and worthwhile project?’   If not, the project should not get past the Start Up stage. The aim at this stage is to do the minimum necessary to decide whether it is worthwhile to move onto planning the project in more detail.

For larger projects the Project Manager tends not to be involved when the project is first being thought about, whereas for many small and medium projects, the Project Manager or another manager or officer may well be the one who drives the acceptance of the project by compiling a Business Case or a recommendation report for acceptance by higher management.

During the starting up a project stage the following must be addressed in this order.  The actions that are carried out by the Project Manager are shown in bold*

  1. The reasons for carrying out the project must be agreed and understood by higher management and it is agreed that a project is required. This may come out of a feasibility study, a review, business plan etc.
  2. The Sponsor is appointed (normally by CLT for corporate projects)
  3. The Project Manager is selected by the Sponsor
  4. Lessons learned from previous projects are captured in a Lessons Log and incorporated into the project – the lessons that are most important will be the ones that have come from projects that are similar to the proposed project in terms of project approach (how we will deliver the project) and what the products and objectives of the project are e.g. implementation of an ICT system, building something, making a change to a service or structure etc.  The Project Manager should speak to the Project Board, review the Council’s central Lessons Learned Log on the Project Management Toolkit intranet pages and speak to other Project Managers to ensure that the project does not make the same mistakes that other projects have and that it incorporates things that have worked well.
  5. The Senior User and Senior Supplier are appointed by the Sponsor (in consultation with CLT for corporate projects).  Working with Project Board, the Project Manager may be able to appoint other project roles at this point (Project Assurance – which is explained further on page 24 – in particular may be important to confirm), but if not these must be confirmed in the next stage of initiating the project.
  6. The Business Case is prepared, including clarifying the purpose of the project, the expected benefits and when these will be measured (this can be submitted as a separate Benefits Review Plan, which is normally just a table or spreadsheet). The Business Case should ideally show how the project explicitly links to the delivery of the priority outcomes in the Council’s Strategic Plan.  If there is no strong link, there is not a clear imperative for carrying out the project and it is very unlikely it will proceed to the next stage.  The Sponsor is accountable for the Business Case and for its development, but the actual writing of the Business case would normally be delegated to the Project Manager, possibly supported by other officers for things like cost/benefit analysis.  Particularly for larger projects the Business Case may be quite high level at this time and will need to be added to and refined in the next stage of Project Initiation.  Remember, the aim is to do the minimum necessary to work out if the project is likely to be worthwhile planning further
  7. The next stage of Project Initiation must be planned by the Project Manager with support from the Project Board i.e. how long will this initiation stage take, who will need to be involved in this stage etc.  For larger projects a Project Plan document will need to be prepared for consideration by Project Board, but for smaller projects a target date for completion of the PID that can be discussed with Project Board should be sufficient.  DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF PLANNING A PROJECT OR THE TIME THAT THIS CAN TAKE  
  8. Project Board considers the Business Case and plan for the initiation stage and decides whether accept them and to proceed to Project Initiation or whether to reject them and the project not move any further forward.

*If an officer prepares a Business Case of some kind for consideration by higher management before any of the Project Board roles are agreed, this is action 1 - The reasons for carrying out the project must be agreed and understood.  The rest of the actions must be followed in order after this, including re-visiting the Business Case at action 6.

Occasionally the business need for undertaking a project is so clear or time is so critical that there is no need to complete the Business Case before the work starts on planning the project e.g. the project is part of a programme, central government requires the Council to change or introduce a new way of working at short notice – this is work that must be done by a date that cannot be moved, so the outline business case is already clear etc.  If this happens, the Business Case must still be completed but can be done at the Project Initiation and Authorisation stage as part of completing the PID.  If you think this is applies to the project you are managing, speak to your Project Sponsor to confirm whether this approach is appropriate as they will need to authorise this.

The Business Case is very important as it defines WHY a project is being carried out.  It is not a static document.  The Project Manager develops it with guidance from the Project Board and other officers as required at this stage, develops it further as required as part of the PID in the Project Initiation phase and must ensure that it is referred to and updated with actual costs and benefits and current forecasts for costs and benefits throughout the life of the project as shown in the diagram below.  This enables Project Board to check that it is still worthwhile to continue with the project.

At Start Up, it is important that even very high level Business Cases or Business Cases for small projects include:

  • Reasons why the project is required
  • How the delivery of the project is being approached e.g. internal delivery or employing an external contractor or consultant etc.
  • Approximate costs of undertaking the project  – this includes all resources and staff costs
  • Expected timescales
  • Expected Benefits
  • Possible Dis-benefits – a dis-benefit is any outcome perceived as negative by one or more stakeholders
  • Any major risks

REMEMBER – at this stage some things will not be completely clear as the detailed planning has not yet been carried out.  This is why it is essential that the Business Case is updated along with the preparation of the PID in the Project Initiation stage.

Project Initiation

The initiation stage involves confirming in enough detail what the project is about, who needs to be involved, what outputs it will produce and what benefits it will achieve, planning how best to do it, over what timeframe, and getting the right team together. This planning is undertaken by the Project Manager who completes a Project Initiation Document (PID).  The Project Board’s role is to then decide whether or not to approve the PID and authorise the project for delivery

At the end of this stage every project should have the following documents in some form:

  1. Detailed Business Case
  2. PID (with a separate project plan if required – probably a Gantt chart and/or action plan)
  3. Risk assessment and Register as per corporate guidance (could form part of the Business Case document).

Corporate projects and more complex medium sized projects may also require the following documents.  Discuss this with your Project Board and agree with them what is required:

  • Benefits Review Plan
  • Quality Management Strategy
  • Configuration Management Strategy
  • Risk Management Strategy
  • Communication Management Strategy

Project Board will need to approve these documents and authorise the project for delivery before any work starts on delivering the project.  If work starts before this, it may not be what is required, which means wasted time, energy, and possibly money.

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