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Defining a Project - Remember the Kipling poem

A good written definition of a Project should be produced as soon as possible to ensure you have understood the project brief correctly and can agree with the owners of the Project that you know where you are heading and are set up for success

This post is a check-list of what I would expect to see in a document whether that be a Project Initiation Document (PIDin the PRINCE2 world or Project Management Plan (PMP) in the Project Management Professional world.

In production of these documents I suggest that you keep in mind a Kipling poem:
Project Definition - I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are WHAT and WHY and WHEN and HOW and WHERE and WHO
I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew);
Their names are WHAT and WHY and WHEN and HOW and WHERE and WHO.
I send them over land and sea, I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me, I give them all a rest.

Note that in the check-list below I have used PRINCE2 terminology e.g. the document is referred to as PID.

What? - the Project Brief

I would expect to see the following in the PID:
  • Objective(s) - keep it brief
  • Major deliverables / desired outcomes
  • Scope (in and out sections)
  • Method of approach
  • Key Assumptions
  • Constraints - what is constraining your planning? Often, these can be points of the Project Management Success triangle e.g. "the project must go live by date x" 
  • Quality and Acceptance Criteria

Why? - the Business Case

Depending on the scale of project I prefer this to be in a separate document - see a post on this subject

When, How and Where? - the Plan

Who? - Project Organisation, Governance and Stakeholders


  • Quality - Expectations, Acceptance criteria, Standards, Responsibilities, Configuration Management, Tools
  • Project Controls - Project File, Project Board meetingsChange Management, RAID management, Status reporting
  • The definition should be clear about how the project owners will judge success delivered by the Project team. This is covered in a different post
  • Order of priority of Project Triangle points. This confirms the Sponsor mindset around what is most important. So maybe Time is the most important point (hopefully explicitly defined as a constraint), Cost (budget) second and Quality/Scope third. So if this project isn't progressing to plan the Project Manager should look to maybe reduce scope but achieve the two other points


The Project Definition is the contract between the Project Manager and the Project Owner. It is important to establish as early as possible in the project life-cycle to give a stable foundation for execution of the Project. It will be used to judge one dimension of project success. So if you can't find six honest serving men, take these roles yourself and get defining!

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