Using Technology to Streamline Project Initiation Instruction

The Project Initiation Instruction (PII) – or the Definition Document – is one of the most important artifacts in project management because it provides a foundation for the project. It specifies why the project is important, what will be delivered, when it will be delivered and how. It’s the contract between the project management team and the steering committee – or sponsor/stakeholders – if you like.

Unfortunately, many project managers don’t take the time to write a proper Project Initiation Instruction (PII) and a lot resort to the traditional pen and paper method to produce a document that goes slowly through many revisions and countless manual approvals. They write a document which is far too generic and therefore doesn’t bear any real meaning. The purpose of writing a PII is not to tick a box so that you can say you have done it, but to ensure that everybody understands the premise of the project. Embracing technology and online collaboration tools like MindGenius Online can both short circuit the creation process and deliver a transparent live document for all project members and stakeholders to refer to.

 A good PII should answer the following questions:

Why are we undertaking the project? It’s important to understand the background of the project, the motivation for undertaking it and its objectives. A good project manager is not only interested in delivering an output or a capability to their customer, but interested in the wider context and the benefits that this capability will ultimately bring about. 

What are we delivering? A good PII is as specific as possible about what is in scope and what is out of scope of the project. It also clarifies the project’s success criteria, i.e. everything that must be fulfilled in order for the project to be considered a success.

Who is responsible? It’s important to clarify who plays which roles on the project so that nothing falls through the cracks. Specify who takes the role of project manager, team leader, sponsor, supplier and user representative. You should also document who the main stakeholders are and who the steering committee comprises of. 

How will the project be delivered? When you kick off a project you have to determine which approach you will use. Will you use a waterfall or agile methodology? How will you communicate with the stakeholders? How will you test the quality of the products or services you are delivering and how will you keep on top of risks, issues and changes to scope? 

When will the project be delivered? Unless you use a very structured waterfall methodology, you are unlikely to have an in-depth schedule of what will happen when. For the PII it will suffice to include a milestone plan which highlights the main phases and activities of the project. As most people are visually minded it is a benefit if you also include a visual roadmap. The more graphical you can make the PII the better.

What are the risks, issues and constraints? Projects often derail because of unforeseen risks, so make sure you get them out in the open as early as possible. Include a snapshot of the project’s top risks and issues and assign owners and mitigating actions. Also remember that constraints and dependencies often turn out to be risks.  

How much is it likely to cost? It is good practice to include a cost estimate in the PII along with any budgetary constraints. Provide the assumptions your team used when they came up with the estimate as well as details about how often you will review the estimates. 

When it comes to completing the PII, make sure that you don’t do it in isolation, but that you involve the team as much as possible. After all, it’s the team that will do most of the work.

And one final point. If you embrace technology and use an online tool like MindGenius Online, all team members and stakeholders will be aware of progress and approval and walk through can be done even if your team members are across the hall or across the globe. 

At MindGenius we are huge fans of PII and the importance it plays in a successful project. We have developed some templates that we have fine-tuned many times in-house that we are happy to share. Please try and let us know how you get on.

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