At one and the same time this step is perhaps the most important and least understood of all the steps in the project management process. Whole books have been written on this topic alone, yet there are a few basic guidelines which are helpful:
1. Make sure you know who is your primary client, to whom you will be reporting on project progress, and from whom you will be receiving direction as the project process evolves.
2. Make sure that you understand your client's goals and objectives and that you will be able to document them in increasing detail as part of developing a project plan which you will eventually be able to execute.
3. Make sure you understand the context of the project — Why is it being done? Why now? What are the implications and consequently the risks that will be faced? Do the delivery date and budget look realistic? What are the tangible and intangible benefits? Does it look like the project is worth doing at all? In short, will it be successful?
4. Document all of this and, together with any assumptions that you may have to make, obtain your client's concurrence. You may well be faced with some hard negotiating to do, but in the end you will have an initiation document which, once approved by the appropriate funding authority, will be your project mandate to proceed and give you the best chance for success.
With this out of the way, you are now off and running and the next steps will be to build a project team, develop a project plan and identify the additional information and resources required for the project.