As a project manager, you are in charge of seeing a project through to its completion right from its initial ideation. One of the best ways to ensure that plans are followed and goals are achieved is to begin a project by creating a detailed document that contains all the information needed to give context to a project and organises everyone involved so that roles, tasks, success criteria and timelines are all clear.
An example of this kind of document is a PID, or project initiation document. This article goes into detail about the purpose of a PID and gives instructions on how to write one.
PID stands for project initiation document, which is a specific digital or physical record of the initial plan and purpose of a project. It is used in project management as the foundation of any new project and a reference point for everyone involved to understand what the purpose of the project is, the steps that need to be taken to achieve its aims and what is required of each member of the team.
A PID is a top-level planning document, meaning that it is written in full detail and shared with all stakeholders involved in the project as well as those actually completing the required tasks. It is just as important for internal team members as external individuals who have an interest or involvement in the project, providing a reference point that clearly outlines what needs to happen, why the project is taking place and the ways in which success will be measured and achieved.
The official concept of a project initiation document comes from the Prince2 structured project management methodology, but now almost every approach to project management involves some kind of similar starting document.
The purpose of a PID in project management is to gather all key information together in one place that will help to keep a project on track from start to finish and give everyone involved a clear idea of what is required of them and what steps will need to be taken to reach the endpoint. It’s also used as a kind of proposal document before a project actually begins and is often shown to key decision-makers or relevant stakeholders in an organisation to check that the right goals are being targeted, important features are included and a clear plan for project delivery is established.
It’s important to have a PID document when initiating a project, as this ensures that you start strong with clear intentions and share the expectations of what will be required upfront. This often means that the team working on a project is more satisfied and productive, as they know what they will be doing from the outset and can plan their time accordingly.
By gathering all necessary information for a project at its initial stage, an accurate plan can be pulled together of everything that needs to be done in order to complete and sign off the project. It also means that accurate success criteria can be created, as by outlining everything that needs to be done and why you can easily measure how successful you have been at the end of the project and ensure that goals are being met along the way.
Writing a project initiation document is also important because it ensures that there is a clear direction from the beginning of a project, which removes the risk of anything getting derailed or forgotten because people don’t know what is going on. If an initial project plan isn’t clear then team members or stakeholders can develop unrealistic expectations or people might start worrying or getting stressed about things that aren’t actually going to happen. However, if a detailed PID has been put together and everyone has read it, expectations are accurate and the chances of going off-piste are very low.
Finally, another purpose of a PID is to be a living document that reflects the progress of the project and provides an up-to-date record of what is going on, who is involved and what needs to be done. This is useful as it not only gives any external stakeholders or members of the organisation a way of checking in, but also means that if someone new has to join the project halfway through or a team member gets replaced, the new participant can easily get up to speed on everything that is going on.
There are several different approaches to writing a project initiation document, so what the record actually contains will vary from project to project. However, there are several sections that all PID’s tend to include, which we have outlined in detail below.
A project’s background is a key part of a successful PID, as this lets the reader know what events or questions have led to the project’s ideation and provides context on any significant ideas, concepts or approaches that have significantly informed what is planned. This should include an explanation of why the project is relevant at the time it is being completed.
Specific details of what is actually involved in the project will be outlined later, so this section is just for giving an overview of what is happening and why.
After the context has been given about the project, the next stage of completing a PID in project management is to outline what the goals of the project are.
This section should begin with the overall business goals that the project is aligned with, to give context of the intended impact on the organisation as a whole. It should then outline what the deliverables are at the end of the project and what needs to be done at every stage in order to make progress, so that there is a clear list of aims that can be ticked off as things progress.
This may not be relevant to every project, but some PID documents contain a section detailing the impact that they hope their work may have. This may be an impact on an industry or community with the results of their project, or it may be the impact of a product on a customer base.
Having the intended impact of a project outlined right at the start is not only a great way to motivate stakeholders to give the project the green light, but it’s also a great way to ensure that a team is motivated from the outset and know exactly what they’re trying to achieve.
Project parameters are an essential part of a good PID, as they give the specifics of what is actually needed for the project to take place. This includes the actual deliverables that need to be completed and supplied to the client or organisation owner, which a project cannot go ahead without.
Parameters may also include the budget and resources available, the timeframe the project needs to be finished within, any tests or standards that need to be considered, and the actual steps that need to be taken for the project to be completed.
Even though some teams change after initiating a project, a PID should outline the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved at the start of the project. This includes listing who is going to be in charge of various tasks, which team members are responsible for managing others, who is accountable for meeting certain goals and what each role actually entails.
Not only is this an important part of assembling a successful team for a project that ensures every task is going to get completed, but it also means that expectations are outlined right at the start. Everyone involved in the project will know what is expected of them and be able to prepare accordingly, and will also know who they need to talk to about each different aspect of the project.
A risk assessment is a very important part of a project initiation document, particularly when it is being used to persuade stakeholders or company leaders that a project can be given the go-ahead. By considering all the potential risks involved in a project, whether these are financial, health and safety, or just general risks to progress, it shows that a team is fully prepared to deal with unexpected issues and also illustrates whether a project is safe to go ahead.
The risk assessment section of a PID is also useful because, if one of the risky situations does occur, there is already a detailed plan of what to do and how to fix it. Being aware of potential risks also means that everyone is more likely to be careful to avoid them, which means that a project is much more likely to run smoothly from start to finish.
When you have outlined all the things you hope to achieve in a project and the goals you are aiming for, it is easy to then create success criteria. Whether this is right at the end of the project or a series of criteria for each stage, having a way of measuring how successful you have been is a great way to recognise hard work and demonstrate to outside observers that the project has gone well.
Having a clear set of success criteria from the start also means that everyone involved knows exactly what they need to produce in order to go above and beyond, which means that it is much more likely to happen.
Finally, once you have included all of the above sections whilst writing a project initiation document, the final thing you need to include is a time-based strategy for completion. Once you know what needs to be delivered, who is doing what and the parameters of the project, it should be easy to create a roadmap outlining each stage of development, what is involved, what deadlines you are aiming to meet and who is required for each task.
This roadmap will be the backbone of the entire project, so it needs to be as detailed and accurate as possible.
What is included in a project initiation document will differ depending on the nature of the project, but the majority of them will include a summary of the project aims, the background, the motivation behind it, the people involved and their roles, a risk assessment, and a proposed timeline. If a specific methodology or model is being used then the details of this will also often be included in the PID.
A living document is a document that is continuously edited and updated so that it is ‘evergreen’ and always accurate when consulted by anyone who uses it. A PID is an example of a living document because it is revised and updated as a project progresses, ensuring that the information it contains is up to date and that it can be consulted by an outsider at any point as a way of understanding what is happening in the project.
A project initiation document is a kind of high-level project plan, so whilst they are not entirely the same thing, there are similarities. A PID is a plan for a project, but has the specific purpose of outlining and planning what is going to happen in a project, along with who is involved and the reason why the project is taking place.
Whether you follow the official Prince2 guidelines for creating a project initiation document or take a more general approach, having a record of the background, goals parameters and proposed timeline of a project before you begin can make a big difference. Not only is it the best way of preparing the rest of your team for what’s ahead, but it also makes completing the project much easier as you don’t need to worry about planning the next stages and assigning responsibilities, as it’s already done.
If you would like to find out more about elements of project management like a PID, we offer ‘An Introduction to Project Management’ online course which includes the key stages and processes involved in leading a project.