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Initiation Phase: Planning a Project and Managing Stage Boundaries

 

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The second phase of the PRINCE2 project lifecycle is Initiation. It comes after the Preparation phase and involves project participants in planning their project, launching project activities and managing stage boundaries. The Business Case and the Project Plan are key documents to be designed, refined and reviewed during the phase.

In a PRINCE2-driven project, the Initiation phase includes several high-level processes to make the project carefully planned and well-grounded. Here’re these processes:

  • Planning a Project (PP)
  • Initiating a Project (IP)
  • Managing Stage Boundaries (SB)

According to the PRINCE2 methodology, the first of the listed processes starts with documenting and approving the Business Case and is carried out throughout the entire lifecycle (from Initiation through Closure). The second process is performed during the Initiation phase. The third process can be implemented several times during the lifecycle to approve successful completion of an implementation stage before proceeding to the next stage. All the processes can be run in parallel.

For convenience, the processes can be divided into simple tasks. The Initiation phase can be turned into a sequence of steps to be taken by the Project Manager and the Project Board for planning and launching their project. With help of VIP Task Manager the management team can break the project down into simple tasks organized into to-do lists, sorted by groups, sequenced by priorities, scheduled by due dates, and assigned to employees. VIP Task Manager can be used for planning and managing tasks of the Initiation phase. Let’s find out what sample tasks are appropriate to the phase and what tools VIP Task Manager features to manage these tasks.

Planning a Project

PP is a repeatable process that starts with the Initiation phase and is carried out throughout the entire lifecycle. Its purpose is to document and approve a detailed management plan for implementing the project. The PRINCE2 methodology offers a unique technique known as "Product based planning" which means the project should be planned and developed according to specifications and requirements of the product. Such a technique involves the following activities:

  • Write a description of the product
  • Build a breakdown structure for the product
  • Collect and document product specifications
  • Generate a flow diagram for the product

The PP process uses these activities as a framework to develop plans for identifying which product to produce and what resources are required. The Project Approach identified at the Preparation phase will be a prerequisite for the process. The Project Manager under supervision of the Project Board needs to design a general plan (the Project Plan) that covers all aspects of the project so everyone involved gets a common understanding of the work ahead.

If to be more specific, the Manager of your project needs to take the following steps:

  • Define and analyze the product which is the primary outcome of the project.
  • Identify activities and their dependencies – this information is required for the team to understand what amount of work is needed to produce the product.
  • Make estimations – this step is to estimate resource types needed for the project and then define what effort is required for implementing each activity by resource types.
  • Schedule activities – to take this step, the Project Manager needs to create an activity network, assess resource availability, define responsibilities, level resource usage, and make a drafted schedule.
  • Design a general plan – the final step is to produce a blueprint based on the input data gathered from the previous steps of the planning process.

When your Project Manager has designed to the Project Plan, the Board needs to review this document and then approve it if the Plan correlates with the PIDs (Project Initiation Documents), such as the Project Approach, the Project Description, and the Project Mandate.

Initiating a Project

The purpose of the IP process is to establish rapport between the Project Board and the Project Manager, so both parties can start negotiating on their project and develop a common understanding of how the project will be executed. The process has a range of objectives to be accomplished by the Manager and reviewed by the Board.

Within the PRINCE2 methodology, the Business Case plays the central role in identifying whether the project is viable and worth of initiation and further development. By using a draft of the Business Case and the Project Mandate designed during the Preparation phase, the Manager needs to refine this document. This person will investigate the business problem, examine expected tangible and intangible benefits, estimate costs, and describe potential impacts of the project. The key goal of the Business Case is to address the business problem at the highest level and determine the need for initiating the project. In case any part of this document fails the whole project should be stopped.

In order to initiate and perform your project the Manager needs to establish an appropriate framework of communication, control and monitoring tools, which are actually listed in the Communication Plan. This formal document identifies how stakeholders involved in your project will communicate and collaborate with each other, what information they can access, share and distribute, and what reporting rules will be set up.

Besides the Business Case and the Communication Plan, the Manager needs to design the Configuration Management Plan which supplements the Project Plan. This document determines a filing structure stating how all information relevant to managing the project will be stored and retrieved, how quality checks will be conducted, and how appropriate support will be provided to the project team.

The outcome of the IP process is a decision on initiating or cancelling the project. When this decision is positive the Project Manager needs to switch to the next process for managing stage boundaries.

Managing Stage Boundaries

SB is a continuous process that is undertaken before the end of each stage except for the final one. For example, when the IP process is finished, a review and update of both the Business Case and the Project Plan should be made in order to make sure the project is viable.

The SB process authorizes further development and implementation of your project. The Business Case, the Project Plan and the Risk Log are key documents that should be audited and updated prior to the end of each stage. In case current forecasts for the end of the stage deviate beyond agreed tolerance boundaries, the stage is to be in exception. Such deviations should be defined during the Controlling a Project process.

If any deviations are revealed the Project Manager needs to draw attention of the Project Board to this situation. The Manager will produce the Exception Plan and send it to the Board for approval.

Using VIP Task Manager

The Initiation phase and its three processes are easier to manage if using VIP Task Manager. This software features Task Tree view that lets create tasks for planning the processes. For example, your Project Manager can use groups and tasks to make a task hierarchy for the PP process. In Task Tree view of the software the hierarchy and its content can be shared between members of your project by using Permissions panel.

Below you can view sample tasks that can be included of your hierarchies of the processes.

Initiation Phase

  • Planning a Project
    • Request stakeholder on product specifications
    • Document product specifications
    • Write a description of the product
    • Define requirements for the product
    • Build a breakdown structure for the product development process
    • Identify dependencies between activities of the structure
    • Generate a flow diagram for the development process
  • Initiating a Project
    • Define the business problem
    • Describe potential impacts of the project to the problem
    • Examine tangible and intangible benefits of the project
    • Make cost estimates
    • Design the Business Case
    • Agree the Business Case with the Customer
    • Make a decision on initiating the project
  • Managing Stage Boundaries
    • Review status of stage plan
    • Make updates to the Project Plan
    • Make updates to the Business Case
    • Make updates to the Risk Log
    • Produce an exception plan

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