Goal: Initiate a project

Applies to
Microsoft Office Project 2003
Microsoft Office Project Server 2003
Microsoft Project 2000 and 2002

The planning phase of a project can span a significant length of time and involve many people, so it's important to define the project's objectives (objective: The quantifiable criteria that must be met for the project to be considered successful. Objectives must include, at least, cost, schedule, and quality measures. Unquantified objectives increase the risk that the project won't meet them.), assumptions (project assumptions: Factors that, for planning purposes, are considered to be true, real, or certain. Assumptions generally involve a degree of risk.), 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 as you write notes about the project for your own records.

 Tip   This article is part of a series of articles 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. The project life cycle is outlined in The Project Map, where you can find a link to an article about each project management goal. Most of the articles include links to supporting information or procedures that you perform in Project or Project Server. These "goal" articles were designed to help you not only use Project but also better understand project management.

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Team members plan a 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 them.

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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:

For objectives to be effective, all project stakeholders (stakeholders: Individuals and organizations that are actively involved in the project or whose interests may be affected by the project.) must officially agree to them. 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 Project, you can attach the document to your project file for easy access.

If you are using Microsoft Office Project Web Access 2003 (Project Web Access: The Web-based user interface that is used to access information in Project Server.), 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.

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

Number 2  Identify your project assumptions     During the planning stage of a project, you'll probably 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?

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

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

  • Project stakeholders 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:

These are just a few issues to consider before beginning any complex project. Ultimate project success depends on identifying assumptions and making backup plans as much as it does on carrying out what you have planned.

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

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Typically, the three major constraints are:

A change in one of these constraints usually affects the other two and can affect overall quality. For example, decreasing project duration (schedule) may increase the number of workers you'll 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 (stakeholders: Individuals and organizations that are actively involved in the project or whose interests may be affected by the project.) are aware of them and have the opportunity to comment on the list.

It is also worthwhile for stakeholders to agree on how they would 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 (task: An activity that has a beginning and an end. Project plans are made up of tasks.). 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.

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

The scope management plan is a document that describes how the project scope will be managed and how scope changes 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 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 (contingency plan: A plan that identifies corrective steps to take if a risk event occurs.).