A Beginner’s Guide to the Project Intake Process

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Project requests coming in from several channels can get overwhelming over time. In this guide, we discuss what a good intake process brings to the table and how to create one.

If you’re like most businesses, you probably capture project requests, whether from clients or internal departments, using a number of different channels:

  • Collaboration tools like Slack
  • Instant messaging applications or chat platforms like Drift
  • A form on your website
  • Your company’s enterprise resource planning or project management software

Sometimes, the proposals aren’t even actual requests, only “I need you to do this” statements (or an equivalent) mentioned in meetings.

And then, there’s email. Someone forwards a request to someone who forwards it to someone who ignores it completely because they have no clue what to do with it. In other words, the emailed request disappears into the void.

If this sounds familiar and you’re regularly encountering these events at work, it’s time to take a long, hard look at your project intake procedures.

Overview: What is the project intake process?

Project intake happens early in the life of a project, and the process is typically designed to capture, evaluate, and prioritize submitted project proposals and product or service ideas. It is composed of a series of steps that, ultimately, enables the project intake team to identify which requests to:

  • Approve and advance to the initiation, project planning, and implementation phases
  • Put in a parking lot for the next evaluation cycle
  • Reject

The objective is to ensure all requests or proposals are captured efficiently and approved projects align with the company’s available resource capacity and overall strategic goals and initiatives.

Without a formalized intake process, scenarios to expect can include:

  • Management approves more projects than teams can realistically deliver, rendering employees overworked, quality benchmarks unmet, and project teams unable to follow through on commitments.
  • Lots of “shadow” work or unstructured projects that your project management tracking tools, such as kanban boards and Gantt charts, cannot formally capture. Meaning that there is not enough visibility to determine overall demand, the value each project brings to the organization, or how many resources projects are consuming.

6 benefits of creating a project intake process

Done right, the project intake process brings with it a multitude of benefits, including.

1. A single point of entry for project requests

A standardized process establishes a centralized hub for requests, so they all end up in the same place to be taken care of by the person or team in charge of intake. No more misplacing files or forms and wasting precious time looking everywhere for something that has pretty much already vanished.

2. Consistent assessment criteria

Adopting a project intake system means the same process all around -- the same steps, the same assessment guidelines, and the same criteria for every project request received.

3. Higher-quality proposals

When requesters know the information expected of them, they can create better requests, which, in turn, shortens the project prioritization process. Also, when requests contain the same types of information, it’s easier for the intake committee to make comparisons and come up with sound decisions.

4. Visibility

When your project management process involves keeping project data in multiple places, you end up with information silos that make it difficult to visualize the big picture.

For a small business to manage costs and maximize available resources, visibility into ongoing and incoming projects provides clarity, which enables informed decision-making regarding how much labor will be needed and which financial and other resources to allocate.

Also, visibility keeps stakeholders aware of where submissions are in the intake process.

5. Efficiency

Efficiency benefits include:

  • When you’re able to retrieve proposals from a single location instead of hunting them down in multiple places, you save valuable time and effort.
  • When there is clear process ownership, i.e., the people involved understand what’s expected of them, you eliminate confusion and increase accountability.
  • When you’re able to transfer data from a request form to a work log or other applicable project document using software tools, you avoid entering data multiple times or worrying that the data might not get transferred to the next document or spreadsheet.

6. Control over projects

“Unlimited” is a word that doesn’t apply to project resources, regardless of the size and type of business performing the project. And because project success also means projects not overshooting their budgets and timelines, selecting your projects carefully ensures that your organization:

  • Has the capacity to see a project through to completion
  • Only works on projects that make strategic sense for the business

How to create a project intake process

Now that we know why project intake is such an important project management activity, let’s take a look at the best practices to keep in mind when establishing your own process.

1. Clarify roles and responsibilities

You want the process to run as smoothly and efficiently as possible, so clarifying roles and responsibilities right off the bat is a must. Some questions to ask include:

  • Who will check the central requests hub?
  • Who will consolidate requests and assign them to the right people?
  • Who will review the requests?
  • Who will make go/no-go decisions?

2. Create a project request form

You don’t have to create a one-size-fits-all project intake form that works for all types of requests. If necessary, design different forms and formulate different sets of intake questions for different request types and departments.

But at the most basic, your intake form should include the nature of the request and the project’s requirements. For internal requests, the proposal should also justify why the company should invest time and resources in the proposed project.

For some sample intake forms, check out template.net and Smartsheet.

3. Determine project thresholds and other criteria

Not all project work requests are created equal, and not all project requests that come your way will provide the benefit you’re looking for. This means defining the threshold criteria so that the projects you green-light are the projects that provide the most value.

For example, if you’re a creative agency, a $1,000 logo project may not be worth your team’s time, whereas a freelancer may consider it a great gig. As another example, if a request for a technology upgrade requires other technologies that are not yet in place, the request might be deemed invalid.

Or if the upgrade will cost more than your company is willing to spend, this can result in the request being rejected or deferred for further evaluation.

4. Pick a request submission location

This can be as simple as dedicating an email address to project requests or designating a folder in Google Drive or Dropbox for submissions.

5. Formalize the process

One of the first things you can do to formalize the process is to document the workflow. Explain where to send project or work requests, the information requesters should include in the form, who reviews them, the thresholds to be implemented, what happens once a request is approved or rejected, and so on.

For clients and employees to start embracing the process:

  • Publish the workflow documentation on your website for current and prospective clients to reference.
  • Get someone in your company to champion the process and hold employees accountable.
  • Instituting a new process requires behavioral change, so stand your ground until it becomes the new normal. If someone sends a request but doesn’t follow the intake system, let them know that their request is not visible in the project management dashboard.

Final word on the project intake process

The project intake process is what turns work proposals and ideas into full-blown projects. If you’re getting a lot of requests, either from clients or internal teams, standardizing the process results in consistency, clarity, and control over the projects you take on.

Furthermore, it prevents delays, confusion, and off-the-grid initiatives from running rampant, which can pose significant risks to your organization if not addressed early on.

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