Creating a Value-Driven Project Intake Process

Published: March 22, 2017

“Get me whatever you can.” We’ve all heard these five words. But beware: They are certain to set up a project for failure. Even though stakeholders love to give this direction…they don’t really mean it! A project can’t be completed successfully if its scope is not well organized, and if there is no clear alignment on expected outcomes. Based on my more than 25 years of research and consulting project experience, scope is the most important preliminary aspect of project management; it’s critical to make it clear the first time around, because it’s difficult to adjust later on.

Yet the project intake process continues to be a challenge for many practitioners. In today’s environment of “everything is urgent AND important,” it is more vital than ever that your stakeholders understand what results actually can be delivered, when, at what quality level, and at what cost. On March 7th as part of the Society of Insurance Research’s 2017 educational conference, “Research Skills Development for Tomorrow’s Leaders,” at the University Club of Chicago, I shared some best practices for the project scoping process as it applies to competitive intelligence and market research studies.

All living organisms have a life cycle…a project is no different. After discussing the typical project life cycle (Infancy, Adolescent, Mature, Old Age) and the respective management style a project leader needs to demonstrate with each phase of the cycle (Champion, Coach, Counselor, Manager), I outlined a 6-step process for diagnosing requests:

  1. Determine Needs and Project Goals – Engage in dialogue with the stakeholder to gain clarity on the business problem to solve, obtain context on what you to seek to achieve, avoid generalizations, and focus only on areas that will provide value…those that truly impact key decisions
  2. Define Deliverables – Gain alignment on the project requirements, know what you will produce (format, analytical tools, outcomes), adjust deliverables including timeline and budget when “scope creep” emerges (and it will!), schedule kick-off calls and update your stakeholder on progress, and whenever possible, present your final results…don’t just email a final report
  3. Identify and Allocate Resources – Assess the hours it will take to complete the various tasks of an engagement, determine what unique skills or experiences are required, determine if the people you need can be sourced internally or externally, and carefully assemble the right delivery squad…don’t overlook the importance of team composition
  4. Establish Budget – Create a budget using a top-down (here’s the budget to work with, now distribute it) or bottom-up approach (estimate hours/cost by task to reach a total necessary budget to meet project specifications), include a “buffer” or reserve to cover unexpected risk, track actual versus budget, and rely on past experience…this will help you to know if budget is realistic
  5. Create a Realistic Timeline – Begin with the end in mind (Stephen Covey), identify all activities and tasks to produce desired results, know which tasks are dependent on others, estimate length to complete the tasks, develop a schedule, and discuss the timeline with the stakeholder…set clear expectations
  6. Gain Approval – Identify the signatory, ask for what you need, prepare for push-back, and obtain written authorization (signed SOW, MSA, PO), especially if collaborating with an external solution provider…protect yourself and your company

Applying this valued, best-practice approach to the project intake process will help ensure that you control the project – so it doesn’t end up controlling you! If you would like a copy of the key presentation slides, please email

David J. Kalinowski, President
Proactive Worldwide, Inc.