Imagine that you were the project manager on a project that was just starting. Let's say you happened to run into your sponsor and he asked you to give him an overview of how the project will progress.
You could reply that you have a 500-line workplan and that you would be happy to e-mail that document to him. However, as you can imagine, this would not be appropriate. Instead, you would probably recap the highpoints of how the project will progress, and you might also share other interesting aspects of the project.
This is basically the purpose of the Approach section of the Project Definition (or Project Charter). The Approach section summarizes in words the detail that is captured on your project workplan, and some of the logic that went into creating it. This information will help the sponsor and other management stakeholders understand how the project will progress without having to interpret the actual workplan. It also allows the project manager to share additional information about the project work itself that would be interesting for these readers.
The following items can be included in the Approach section:
- Summarize the workplan by walking chronologically through the project, starting at the beginning and going to the end. You want to stay at the milestone, stage, or phase level. You can also describe interdependencies between the high-level phases and stages.
- Identify any constraints or time-boxes in terms of budget, effort, time or quality, and the impact to the project.
- Note any company or industry best practices that will have an effect on the project.
- Describe other options for the overall approach and why you chose the option you did over the others. You should describe why you think this approach has the best chance of success over the others.
- Talk about how the deliverables will be supported and maintained after the project ends. Also indicate whether the approach was influenced by support and maintenance implications.
- Discuss any other related projects that are completed, in progress or pending that influenced the approach for this project and why.
- Discuss any techniques that might be of interest to the reader. For instance, if the requirements will be gathered in a three-day Joint Application Design (JAD) session, you can note this in the Approach.
- Discuss any new technology or new processes being utilized and why.
- Identify any unusual staffing requirements, such as consultants or outside specialists, and explain why you need them.
- Describe the use of outsourcers, contractors or vendors, especially if they are doing significant work.
Of course, these are ideas for the Approach section. You don't need to comment on all of them and many may not be applicable to your project. The purpose of the Approach is to describe these factors and the impact they have on the project workplan.
It's important to understand upfront that the Approach is for the benefit of the reader—the writer already knows the information. There is a tendency to write this section briefly and quickly, therefore providing little value to the reader. On the other hand, you don't want to write a novel either. This section might be two-thirds of a page for normal projects and maybe a page-and-a-half for larger ones. If the project manager is diligent and provides good context, this section can prove to be very valuable for the reader.