Phase Zero


To ensure a number of things are in place before the project starts:

  • There is executive support, particularly in the area of resources
  • The Concept is clearly understood and agreed amongst the key stakeholders
  • People understand the role they may need to play in the project
  • People understand the likely effort and cost involved
  • The outcome is clear and consistent
Phase Planning Identify Key Stakeholders Review Existing Material Identify Other Information Sources
Schedule Interviews Prepare Interview Agenda Carry out Interviews Resolve Conflicts and Inconsistencies
High Level Scope Produce Feasibility Report Agree Feasibility Report
Project Planning Gate            
  • Concept Paper
  • Plan for the Phase Zero
  • Phase Zero Report
    • Inconsistencies and Conflicts
    • High Level Scope
    • Stakeholder Analysis
  • Plan for the Project Planning Phase
 Typically this will take a week to two weeks to complete. It may not be continuous work as it may involve 5 to 10 interviews spread over a period of time.
  • Business Analyst
  • Stakeholders
  • Potential Sponsor
  • Initiator

No matter how small the project, it is important to do some level of Phase Zero. Most problems that cause projects to fail have their roots in the initiation of the project. Spending some time to identify those roots is a major risk reducer. The key part of this exercise is to understand the conflicts and inconsistencies and get them resolved so this is a minimum that should be undertaken.

Understanding stakeholder positions is more important if there are many parties involved. The effort involved can be reduced if there are only one or two key players. Plotting their level of support can be politically sensitive and should only be undertaken if somebody is going to act on the findings. If nobody is going to do anything, it becomes an academic exercise that falls into the "I told you so" category when things go wrong.

Scope definition is as important as inconsistencies and conflicts. If you do not get agreement to the scope at the beginning, you will never manage it. Part of the scope definition is to ensure you understand the business problem you are trying to resolve. Many projects have delivered solutions that had little to do with fixing the business problem so be sure everyone agrees the scope.

In the proposed ISO standard for project management (ISO 21500) a project is not defined as started until a budget is approved. The project feasibility is investigated in Phase Zero i.e. the phase before the first phase.

Many projects fail for reasons that were evident at the start of the project. Reasons can be things like:

  • Never able to properly resource the project
  • Differences in expectations as to what the project would achieve
  • Differences in expectations about the scope of the project
  • Varying expectations on the time, cost and effort involved
  • Clashes about who is controlling the project

In order to get these issues out of the way before we start, a Phase Zero is undertaken. Interviews are carried out with key stakeholders and inconsistencies resolved before the project actually starts. By the time the phase is completed, there should be unanimous agreement on scope, outcome, time and money involved, who is responsible and resource requirements. This will ensure executive support for a successful outcome from day one.

Schedule Gantt Chart A draft Microsoft Project plan for the phase. It lists activities and elapsed timeframes. Times are very approximate and may be significantly shorter or longer.
Determining the scope A white paper on determining the scope of a project. Provides a checklist of things to consider.
Scope Management User Guide A white paper on identifying and managing scope in a project
Resource Planning for Projects A white paper on issues around resourcing a project.
Vision, Business Problem, Outcome and all that stuff A white paper on how to align a project with the organisation. Starts at the corporate vision and links it to a project
When does a Project Start A white paper that covers how an idea morphs into a project

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