Use a Separate “Discovery Project” to Plan a Large Project

Projects don’t just spring from nowhere. Although many project managers only get involved when it’s already been decided that a project will be undertaken to achieve some end, there is, of course, a phase before this: discovery. Discovery is the process by which the organization reviews the available opportunities and decides which of them will become projects in due course.

“Here's the TenStep guest blog post "Use a Separate “Discovery Project” to Plan a Large Project":

For very large projects, there is a tendency for the planning work to become very lengthy and unfocused. Planning the work for very large projects may take enough time that it should be structured as a project itself. This is one purpose of defining a separate Discovery Project.

Let's look at an example. Let's say a project is going to take 50,000 effort hours (employee and contractor) to complete. It may take a number of months to get the project planned and approved. In this example, you could create a distinct first project to define the second larger project. This first project would be the Discovery Project. The final deliverable for a Discovery Project is a completed Project Charter, Project Management Plan, budget and schedule for the subsequent large project. All the other project deliverables will be produced as a part of the next follow-up project.

Discovery Projects, like all projects, come in different sizes. These discovery projects need to be chartered, scheduled and managed like a project. Depending on the size of the Discovery Project, you have three options on how to define and manage the work.

  • For a small Discovery Project, a service request can be created as the chartering document. The project should be completed quickly with a minimum or project management rigor and structure. (This is the nature of all small projects.)
  • For a medium-sized Discovery Project, create an Abbreviated Project Charter and project schedule, and manage just like any other medium-size project, including managing issues, scope, risk, etc. When the Discovery Project is complete, the Project Charter, Project Management Plan, project budget and project schedule for the subsequent project should be created. The approval process for these documents should be a part of the Discovery Project. The subsequent large project can start at any time directly into the execution phases since the planning work has been completed.
  • If the size of your Discovery Project is, in fact, a large project itself, you should follow the steps required for planning and managing large projects. You would need a full Charter, budget, schedule and Project Management Plan for the Discovery project. You will need to manage the Discovery Project with the same rigor and structure you would manage any large project. You can imagine that if the Discovery Project is a large project, the subsequent project actually being defined would have to be very, very large. It is likely a program and if that is the case you should switch to program management processes rather than project management processes.

Sometimes the planning for very large projects can drift and become unfocused. Managing the planning process as a Discovery Project brings clarity and focus to the purpose and allows you to complete the planning in a rigorous manner.

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