Situation analysis at project start

Before starting a project, it is important to get a comprehensive and neutral overview of the project’s history. A situation analysis is the tool of choice. The situation analysis is also an important measure to minimize risks and create transparency in the project.

At the beginning of a project, it is often unclear to the project manager why the project came about in the first place and what the history of the project is. In order to be able to act as a project manager, the top priority is to get an overview of the project and its history.

The following is a list of questions that you must ask yourself as a responsible project manager. Even though time is always pressing, and very often the project owner, without having the answers to these questions, you should never start a project.

Procedure for situation analysis

The collection and investigation of the actual state at the beginning of the planning activity of a project creates transparency about the previous course and the prevailing project conditions with reasonable effort. It goes without saying that the first point of contact for obtaining information is the project client. If there was a preliminary project or a preliminary study, all persons involved are potential interview candidates.

  • Collection and analysis of information through interviews, document analysis
  • From rough to detail, scope depends on project type and size
  • Collect, structure and relate information after each cycle

Based on the results of these initial discussions, the project manager must then decide how to proceed and how much time and effort to invest in further research.

Questions about the background

To get the history of a project is a key factor to be able to implement a project successfully. This often gives a lot of hints about expected difficulties and pitfalls.

  • Why was the project decision taken? What is the background?
  • What problems did the project aim to solve?
  • Who promoted or hindered the development of the project?
  • Which decisions were made in advance? By whom?
  • Which documents and records have already been prepared that can be used?
  • Are there any preliminary studies, analyses, protocols, etc. related to the project? Which ones?
  • Are there any preliminary projects? Which ones? When was it started? When were they completed?
  • Have risks already been identified? Which ones?
  • Have similar projects been carried out in the past?
  • Who are know-how carriers from similar projects in the past?
  • What do the employees in the company think about the project or its results?
  • Who are the biggest supporters or critics of the project? Why?
  • Who are the opinion leaders and what do they think about the project?

Questions about project assignment

Here it is clarified: Who stands behind the project, who is affected positively or negatively by it and what is to be achieved by it?

  • What is the project supposed to change?
  • What is the professional or technical background?
  • Are goals already set out in writing? Which ones?
  • Who is the client?
  • What is the availability of the client to the project manager?
  • Are project and result requirements defined? Which ones?
  • Have acceptance criteria been agreed?
  • Is there a rough time schedule?
  • Are there specifications regarding deadlines, costs, efforts, etc.? Which ones?
  • Who is directly / indirectly affected by the project?
  • Who are the users, operators, etc. of the project result?
  • Are there any particularities in the field of application of the users, users, etc.? Which ones?
  • In what form is the handover to the line planned?
  • What significance does the project have for the company?
  • What priority does the project have in the company?
  • Which company strategies are supported or implemented by the project?
  • How does the project influence the corporate strategies?
  • Are there concrete dependencies on or to other projects / plans?
  • What expectations are there of the project? From whom?
  • Does the project manager have authority to issue instructions? Which ones? What is he or she responsible for? What is he or she responsible for?
  • When is the project manager’s task completed?

Questions about project organization

Here it is clarified who is to participate in the project, whether there are enough resources for this, whether external participants are involved, how the reporting lines and the control in the project should look like.

  • Which organizational units are involved in the project?
  • What number of employees from which areas is required?
  • What qualifications must the project staff have?
  • Are there role definitions?
  • Are the areas of responsibility clearly delineated?
  • Do the project members have experience in project management? Which ones?
  • Do the project team members have an understanding of project management? To what extent?
  • Which interests and points of view on project and project management exist among the participants?
  • Have the project team members already carried out similar projects?
  • Are the project team members specially trained?
  • Have the project team members already worked together?
  • Are the project team members located at one site or distributed over several sites?
  • Does the project client provide personnel? Which employees?
  • Are there any other provisions by the client? Which ones?
  • How much time do the project team members get for the project?
  • Are the project staff members entrusted with other, non-project related activities?
  • Can the resource requirements be covered internally?
  • How is the situation regarding vacations, trainings and other absences of the project team members regulated?
  • Is it planned to involve external employees? Which ones?
  • Is there any past experience regarding cooperation with certain external employees?
  • Is it planned to use subcontractors?
  • Are there templates for contracts? Which ones?
  • Are there plans to include measures in the contracts in case of non-contractual performance of services?
  • Is there information about the reliability of suppliers? Which ones?
  • Are there alternatives to potentially unsafe suppliers?
  • Is a steering body / steering committee necessary?
  • Are there already committees in place that have an influence on the project? Which ones?
  • Are clear decision-making mechanisms established in these committees?

Questions about procedure and planning

Important information to be able to carry out a clean project planning.

  • Are there company-specific guidelines for project management? Which ones?
  • Are there any company-specific procedures, methods, … that must be adhered to in project management?
  • Are there general conditions that cannot be influenced?
  • Which projects are running parallel in the company? Can conflicts or potentials arise from them?
  • Which communication tools and media are available?
  • Which planning horizon is possible?
  • What level of detail is provided for planning?
  • How is project progress measured?
  • What information should be exchanged in the project?
  • Which IT tools can be used to support the project?
  • Which project management templates are already available and can be used?

Commercial questions

A very important point: Where does the project budget come from and who is responsible for it.

  • Who pays the project costs?
  • Is there a project budget?
  • How is billing done?
  • Who is responsible for project cost controlling?

Other questions

  • What dependencies are there on other results, projects, etc.?
  • Is a formal change management planned? In which form?
  • When does the formal change management come into effect?
  • Are there established decision-making procedures for formal change management?
  • Who decides on changes?
  • Who pays for changes?
  • Is there a central location where all project data can be archived (both electronic and paper documents)?

Outcome of the situation analysis

The result of the situation analysis is a snapshot of the current project status. You now have information about the history and expectations of the project. Preliminary work and results that have already taken place are known. Important: there is no guarantee that you have all relevant information about the project.

  • The current situation and past developments have been systematically examined.
  • The project manager has a first rough overview of the overall project in terms of initial situation, main goals and people involved.
  • The project manager is responsible for conducting the situation analysis and for the results.
  • The interpretation of the results provides him with a basis for decisions on how to proceed.