Before a project actually starts, you must spend an appropriate amount of time defining the work and building a workplan (schedule). For a small project, it may only take a few hours to complete this upfront work. A medium sized project might take 20 - 40 to define and plan. A large project will require even more time – maybe a couple hundred hours.
Of course, some projects are much larger than others. As a project becomes even larger, the time it takes in the upfront definition might reach into the hundreds or even thousands of hours. Defining the work for very large projects takes enough time that it should be structured as a project itself. This is the purpose of defining a separate "Discovery Project".
A Discovery Project is established to define a very large subsequent project. The final deliverables for a Discovery Project are the completed Project Definition, Project Management Procedures and project workplan for the subsequent very large project. Here is how it would work:
- Estimate whether the effort and duration required to define your project is large enough that it would be appropriate to structure the work as a Discover Project.
- If the work is large enough to be a Discovery Project, create a Project Definition and workplan for this initial project.
- The Project Definition of the Discovery Project should be approved by your sponsor.
- The Discovery Project should be managed as a project, including managing scope, risk, quality, communication, etc. Of course, the amount of project management time required is proportional to the size of the project.
- The final deliverables of the Discovery Project are usually the Project Definition and workplan for the following large project. In addition, the Discovery Project could also result in the creation of Project Management Procedures, Communication Plan, Risk Management Plan and any other high-level, upfront deliverables required by your organization.
- The Project Definition should be approved by your sponsor. This document is the major end deliverable of the Discovery Project and the initial document required for the subsequent project.
Once the Project Definition is approved by the sponsor, the second, larger project is ready to begin.
The next step is to create a project definition and workplan. The project definition should be approved by your sponsor.
Of course, you could take this concept to an extreme and ask what you would do if the Discovery Project itself was too large to define. Would you define a Discovery Project for the Discovery project? The answer is "no". If you are in that position, there are other techniques that will help, including breaking the larger initiative into a series of smaller projects and then creating a Program umbrella to manage all of the underlying projects.
Discovery Projects are an important concept and should be utilized by organizations trying to become better and more mature in their approach to managing projects. They allow you to apply the appropriate project management focus and rigor to the project planning process, and they ensure that subsequent large project starts off with a strong foundation.