The main task in project definition phase is to set clear project goal(s), so-called SMART goal(s), together with requirements or specifications in terms of scope, schedule, and budget. Only this enables goal-oriented planning in the following phase. We also introduce the concept of stakeholder management and stakeholder analysis.
Every project usually starts with some vision or idea. An individual and her family, a company, or a government entity wants to create something, the desired project result. Maybe, it is the first home, a new IT system, or a bridge across a 1-mile wide river. At this point, at the very beginning of the project, we have only vague ideas of where to go. There is just this vision on a very high level, but we do not yet know how the result should look like or how we could get there.
As we explain in section Project Management Process, we want to be in control of our project at all times. In implementation and closure phase, this means being able to compare results of action with required results. Therefore, we need a project plan that contains all necessary actions and required results. Moreover, we only can create such a plan if we know enough details about the project goal and requirements or specifications of the desired project results.
We have to refine our vision into a clear goal, and then, break down this goal into sub-goals and sub-sub-goals, until we can define even detailed requirements or specifications our desired end result has to fulfill. In order to support this process of defining more and more detailed characteristics of the project result we need to follow certain criteria of how to setup goals, requirements, or specifications: they need to be SMART.
We call a goal being SMART if it is
R ealistic, and it's
T imeline is clear.
Obviously, we need to have a team working on those tasks of project definition phase, like developing SMART goals, etc. This team needs a clear assignment. For that purpose, we create a project charter.
Who can help to define the goals, sub-goals, requirements, and specifications of a desired project result? We must ask those who have a stake in the project.
Stakeholders are individuals or organizations who
• have interest in,
• or are affected by
the project results or project activities.
Stakeholders either are human beings or are represented by human beings. So, stakeholder analysis and stakeholder management call for the full range of soft skills, such as inter-personal communication, facilitation of teams and teamwork, or conflict management, to name just a few.
For assistance with conflict management and effective communication refer to Communication and Conflict.
If you are the project manager then you are responsible for stakeholder management in your project. Since you are not alone working on your project you will involve your team members, your sub-contractors (if you are in the role of a customer), or your customer (if you are in the role of a contractor or sub-contractor).
In case your project is setup on basis of a typical customer-contractor relationship and you are in the role of the contractor, your company’s organization most likely provides a clear differentiation of responsibilities that could be as follows.
Key account managers and sales managers are responsible for project definition and planning phase. They pick up the customer’s idea or vision of a new project, collect a request for proposal or quotation, prepare the proposal, submit it, carry out the negotiations, and sign a contract. Then they hand over to you, the project manager, who is responsible for project implementation and closure phase. It is clear that this handover of responsibilities is a critical transition with a high risk of lost information. We can decrease this risk by adhering to a clearly defined process.
The stakeholder management process looks as follows.
Identification of interests and especially the resolution of conflicting interests are definitely not as easy as it is written down here. There are just too many examples of hidden agendas, or even deep conflicts between different stakeholders that terminate projects before they even start. We emphasize again that for these tasks, those who have to accomplish them need the full set of soft skills. For the further planning activities it is essential to follow-up on the stakeholders’ interests throughout the whole project. Moreover, these interests have to be managed in a way that we can avoid unjustifiable changes of goal(s), requirements, or specifications in later project phases. In sub-section Stakeholder Management, we present a useful method and some tools that support stakeholder management.
The development of requirements and specifications of the desired end result of any project needs expertise.
Just take the example of planning and building a customized home. We need expertise in areas like architectural design, civil engineering, electrical engineering, piping and plumbing, heating and cooling, interior design, etc.
Thus, we form a team of experts, often consisting of Business Analysts, who will take over the development of requirements and specifications. The project manager’s responsibility is to facilitate the team work of all those experts.
In larger projects it is useful to develop requirements and specifications in form of functional descriptions. We just describe on the functional level what we expect the end result of the project to do, rather than defining all the characteristics of that result.
In project definition phase, it is also appropriate to start the project management handbook of a new project. This document will serve as a virtually complete compendium that contains literally everything that corresponds to that project.
In most projects an organization wants to undertake, they need support of other organizations, companies or legal entities. Therefore, we need to know what basic project contract structures are available so that we can choose one that fits to our project situation. It is best practice to define the project contract structure as early as in project definition phase. Here you find more about project contract structures.
We consider the finalized project goal(s) together with the requirements and specifications of the desired project result being the most important prerequisites for further project planning. In projects with a typical customer-contractor relationship the customer will conclude the project definition phase by officially issuing a request for proposal or quotation. This triggers the start of the project planning phase.
In case you would like to use practical and useful packages of tools, templates and checklists, here you can get them. They save you a lot of time, are easy to use and easy to change:
All four PM Phases in one Set