Identification process


This process manages the first phase of the project or programme life cycle. Its goals are to:

  • develop an outline of the project or programme and assess whether is it likely to be justifiable;
  • determine what effort and investment is needed to define the work in detail;
  • gain the sponsor’s authorisation for the definition phase.

Some initial idea or need for a project or programme will generate a mandate. This can take many forms ranging from a client’s invitation to tender to a strategic objective in a corporate plan or simply a verbal instruction. The term mandate is applied to whatever information is used to trigger a project or programme.

The first goal is addressed in the form of the brief and the second in the form of the definition plan. At the end of the process these two documents will be presented to the sponsor with a request to authorise the definition process.


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Appoint identification team

Circumstances at this point will vary enormously according to the context. The work may be triggered by events as diverse as the award of a contract, a decision in a board meeting, a change in regulation or legislation, a market opportunity or any one of a host of other events.

A property developer may appoint an identification team made up of architects, structural engineers and surveyors. The developer would act as sponsor and may appoint the architect to manage identification and definition.

The contract for delivery would be awarded to a construction firm who would then provide a project manager with the architect providing some aspects of sponsorship on behalf of the developer.

Where a project is part of a programme, the identification team may comprise members of the programme management team who hand over to a project sponsor and project manager for the definition phase.

Someone will be the initial recipient of the mandate and must take the necessary actions to formalise the work into a project or programme. This will involve putting together a team that perform the identification activities under the guidance of a sponsor and manager.

In most cases the sponsor and manager appointed here will see the work through the whole life cycle but in some cases sponsorship and management of the identification and definition processes will be done by different people to those who perform those roles during the delivery process.

The first responsibility of the sponsor and manager will be to check the mandate to fill in any gaps in the information and clarify any ambiguities. They will then need to agree a timescale and budget for the work and assemble the team that will complete the identification activities.

During this formative period, information will be gathered for use in the brief and definition plan. This information will be diverse but it is too early to start building individual documents. It is useful for the manager to maintain a diary that is formally known as a daily log. This acts as a repository for information about assumptions, risks, issues, constraints etc., until more formal documentation is established.

Role descriptions for sponsorship and management should be assembled and agreed with the relevant individuals. It is important to confirm that they not only have the necessary competences but also are able to commit sufficient time to the identification process.


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Review previous lessons

It is always important to learn from the past. The availability of documented lessons learned will depend upon the host organisation’s capability in knowledge management.

Where records of lessons learned are available, the identification team should review them and identify those that are relevant to the new project or programme. These will be entered into a lessons log along with a description of how they affect the brief and definition plan.

If records are not available, it is still important for lessons to be gathered from previous projects or programmes. This may involve seeking out and interviewing sponsors and managers of previous projects and programmes or organising workshops.

External sources of lessons learned such as other organisations or professional networks should also be considered. If the host organisation has not done a project or programme like this one before then this activity will rely on such external sources.


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Prepare brief

Based on the confirmed mandate, the identification team will start work on the project or programme brief. The purpose of the brief is to provide sufficient information to justify investing in the definition process (the extent of which will be described in the definition plan). The exact content will vary in scope and detail according to circumstances and must be in proportion to the cost and risk of the proposed project or programme.

The key decision made during this process concerns how the work will be governed, i.e. will it be organised as a project or a programme. This is predominantly determined by the early stages of scope management, starting with the capture of requirements. The nature and complexity of the requirements, the scale and complexity of the solution, and the breadth of scope, will collectively indicate how the work should be managed. This decision will, in turn, influence the way that scope management, schedule management, risk management etc. are covered in the brief.

The brief contains outline information about all of the components of the delivery function.  The identification team will:

  • work with stakeholders to establish their requirements;
  • develop a solution and scope of work;
  • determine whether to manage the work as a project or programme, or a hybrid of the two;
  • estimate high level timescales;
  • identify sources of funding and estimate budgets;
  • identify and assess the main risks that could affect successful completion;
  • outline the type and quantity of resource that will be needed and whether it can be sourced internally or externally;
  • highlight areas of business-as-usual that will be subject to change (if the need for change is identified as part of the scope);
  • identify and assess the most influential stakeholders and propose initial communications.

When determining the extent and detail of information that should be included in the brief, the overriding principle is that it must be sufficient to give the sponsor confidence to authorise the budget for the definition phase.

Preparing the brief will utilise many P3 functions. Each of these includes details of tools and techniques that can be too detailed for use this early in the life cycle. They should be applied at an appropriately high level as each aspect of the work is only documented in outline in the brief.


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Prepare definition plan

While the brief outlines the project or programme as a whole, the sponsor will also need to know what is required to produce a full set of detailed documentation. The work required to define the project or programme in detail will range from the concise to the extensive. The definition plan follows the normal format of a delivery plan but has the specific purpose of describing how the definition process will be performed.

The identification team will need to ensure that:

  • the scope of the definition work is well defined;
  • any specialised resources required for detailed definition are identified and available;
  • any risks specific to the definition work are identified along with proposed responses;
  • the cost and timescale of the definition phase is estimated as accurately as possible;
  • arrangements are in place to mobilise the definition team should the definition phase be approved.


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Projects and programmes

On small projects the identification activities may be managed and performed by one person but the combination of a separate sponsor and manager is the minimum requirement. It may also be possible to combine the identification and definition phases into a single process.

In all but the simplest of projects and all programmes identification should be a separate phase with a review before proceeding to definition. This can avoid the cost of substantial definition work.

Where a project is part of a programme, the brief may be prepared by the programme management team and the identification process is bypassed at the project level. The same could be true of a programme that is part of a portfolio.

On large, complex projects and programmes, the definition phase may constitute a small project in its own right. Any supporting information should accompany the definition plan commensurate with the scale and complexity of the definition phase.


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Date Change
21st June 2014 First instance of the word 'work' in the second goal changed to 'effort' to avoid confusion with the second instance
8th May 2017 Hyperlinks from diagram to text added
1st August 2019 'Initiation team' corrected to 'Identification team' in Review lessons learned
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