The Concept Process Phase is the first phase of the California Project Management Framework (CA-PMF) Project Management Life Cycle (PMLC). This process phase outlines the activities that should take place before formally initiating a project and developing a Project Charter. A key focus is confirming the business drivers, problems, and opportunities for the project along with aligning the project’s objectives with the sponsoring organization’s strategic direction.

See a graphic of all six Key Elements of the Concept Process Phase in the Additional Resources chapter. For a broader view, the CA-PMF Key Elements Table (.pdf) compiles all Key Elements across the Project Management Lifecycle (PMLC). This 11 x 17 inch document can be downloaded and printed for easy reference.

Each process phase Key Element is discussed independently below. Click on a Key Element title to expand the view and see the additional content.

A review of the following recommended practices will help focus your thinking around the project and avoid pitfalls that commonly occur during the Concept Process Phase.

Validate Your Concept for a Strong Foundation
Regardless of how a project concept emerges, thorough vetting and validation are necessary to improve the chances for future success. Ensure that Stakeholders are engaged early and buy-in to the project concept.

Have a Strong Business Case
Establishing a compelling business case will help solidify support and commitment from organizational leaders and external organizations. A business case captures the reasoning for initiating a project or task. It is often presented in a well-structured written document that justifies the organization expending resources and effort in support of a specific business need. A vague project objective risks the project’s ability to deliver measurable benefits. Ensure that your Stakeholders understand and support the business case and project objectives.

Is Your Organization Ready for Change?
A vast majority of IT projects bring some form of organizational change. These changes can affect various processes, workflows, and job functions, and they may require new skills from workers. Organizations that fail to plan for change add major risk to the potential success of the project if, for example, users fail to adopt and utilize a new system or process.

It’s never too early to consider the nature and impact of organizational change, and how the project team will effectively plan, manage, and navigate the project. Experienced State of California Project Sponsors and Project Managers have noted that Organizational Change Management (OCM) is often either missing or the level of effort is substantially less than ideal. Many projects consider addressing organizational changes and impacts too late in the PMLC and sometimes not at all. Ideally, organizational change considerations and activities should be addressed from the very beginning.

Don’t Underestimate or Oversimplify User Research and Engagement
User research is the process of gathering feedback from users. The decision of whether or not to do user research can have serious implications for your project. Conducting user research early in the project is critical in defining the project scope and requirements. Additionally, ongoing user engagement is the most effective way to check whether the project is on the right track as project activities proceed.

For low complexity projects, teams may be able to learn and develop proper user research and engagement techniques as the project progresses. This can be achieved as part of training the team in agile techniques. Medium and high complexity projects should consider seeking out the appropriate expertise at the concept stage to guide the project team to successfully complete the activities (i.e. acquire an agile coach). User research and engagement may be a straight-forward concept, but don’t underestimate or oversimplify the task.

The following table identifies primary participant roles and responsibilities for this process phase. In some cases, a project might have unique requirements that call for additional roles or responsibilities depending on the project’s size, type, and complexity.

Definitions of all roles referenced in the CA-PMF is provided in Project Role Definitions in the Additional Resources chapter.



Executive Sponsor(s)

  • Provides agreement for funding the project.
  • Provides executive intervention to overcome organizational roadblocks.
  • Key to assuring the project goals and objectives align with the organization’s strategic direction.

Project Sponsor

  • Key to assuring the project goals and objectives align with the organizations strategic direction.
  • Key to allocating initial resources needed to complete the necessary tasks in the Concept Process Phase.

IT Sponsor

  • Provides technical information that may be required to complete tasks in the Concept Process Phase.

Business Owner(s)*

  • Provides information pertaining to a preferred product or solution.
  • Communicate high-level requirements.


  • Any person or group with an active interest in the project outcome or process and wishes to participate, or is invited to participate, in the tasks associated with the Concept Process Phase, including SMEs.
* May also be referred to as Business Sponsor.

The following processes are associated with this process phase. The list below contains a high-level description of these processes. See the Processes and Activities section of the Concept chapter in the CA-PMF for more detail.

  • Identify the Project Sponsor(s) and Stakeholders - The sponsoring organization’s leadership typically will be tasked with the assignment of a Project Sponsor and the preliminary identification of key potential Stakeholders. If applicable, consult with the organization’s Project Management Office (PMO) or IT Governance Process to determine if there already are internal processes for proposing and approving project concepts. Typically, a Project Manager has not yet been formally named at this early stage.
  • Conduct a Readiness Assessment - The Readiness Assessment is used to communicate the reason for taking on the project, including the business problem or opportunity to be addressed, potential benefits and outcome, strategic alignment, and return on investment. It also assesses the potential project’s impacts on the organization and its staff, and whether the organization is prepared to successfully conduct the project.
  • Project Approval Process - The state’s project approval process starts during the Concept Process Phase. This includes completing and submitting a draft Stage 1 Business Analysis (S1BA) as part of the Project Approval Lifecycle (PAL). The information compiled for Concept Development and Readiness Assessment can be useful in departmental and/or statewide project approval processes.
  • Concept Process Phase Review - A Concept Project Phase Checklist is completed after all of the phase’s activities are done. This ensures that the necessary activities have been completed and that a foundation has been established for the project.

The following activities are undertaken in support of the processes that are associated with this process phase. The list below contains a high-level description of these activities. See the Processes and Activities section of the Concept chapter in the CA-PMF for more detail.

  • Identify the Specific Business Problem or Opportunity - The process of developing a project concept starts by clearly defining a business problem or opportunity. This helps determine whether the problem or opportunity can be solved by allocating resources to create a project solution, and also supports the process of getting funds for the project.
  • Establish a Clear Business Case - A clear business case will help build support and commitment for the project from the sponsoring organization’s leaders, as well as from external control agencies and the Legislature. Project leadership should be able to address fundamental questions about the project. If a clear business case can’t be developed, it’s important to identify this early before more resources are expended.
  • Assess the Organizational Impact - IT projects cause organizational change. Organizational change management must be considered and effectively addressed to maximize the likelihood of project success. Questions to be considered include who will be affected, what will the impacts be, when should the changes be planned, and is the organization ready for the changes?
  • Complete the Concept Development and Readiness Assessment - An environmental readiness assessment gives the organization an opportunity to adjust its project strategies, plans, and timing. Assessment topics that should be considered include organizational maturity and preparedness, organizational culture, capacity for launching a new project, project governance, the organization’s track record with projects, and lessons learned from previous endeavors.
  • Conduct a High-Level Risk Assessment - Conducting a review of the responses to the Concept Development and Readiness Assessment criteria, as well as the recommended actions and next steps noted, may help provide an initial gauge of the level of risk associated with the project.
  • Begin drafting the Stage 1 Business Analysis (S1BA) (PAL) - The State’s project approval process begins during the Concept Process Phase, with a draft Stage 1 Business Analysis (S1BA) as part of the Project Approval Lifecycle (PAL). The information that is gathered from the Concept Development and Readiness Assessment can be useful in departmental and/or statewide project approval processes. Additional information on the S1BA and PAL can be found in SIMM 19.
  • Complete the Concept Process Phase Checklist - This checklist identifies the key activities to be accomplished during the Concept Process Phase.

A number of project management outputs are developed during the Concept Process Phase. The outputs are associated with tools available for your use.

For a complete list of all tools that are part of the CA-PMF see the templates page. A list and definitions of all Templates referenced in the CA-PMF is provided in Which Templates Should I Use and When? section in the Templates chapter.

Tool/ Output


Concept Development and Readiness Assessment

This template helps the project team determine (1) if an appropriate and complete business case has been developed, (2) if the associated project impacts have been identified, and (3) if the project should be undertaken. The template will also help to identify the business drivers, problems, opportunities, and objectives the project is intended to address. The written description of these factors outline the information so that it is clear how the project concept aligns with the strategic direction of the organization.

The assessment also provides a determination of the sponsoring organization’s readiness for undertaking and accepting the project results, and an analysis of possible organizational impacts. Some of the information for the assessment can be leveraged from the Stage 1 Business Analysis (S1BA) (PAL).

Stage 1 Business Analysis (S1BA) (PAL)

Part of the PAL, the S1BA provides a basis for project management, program management, executive management, and state-level control agencies to understand and agree on business problems or opportunities, and the objectives to address them. Additional information on the S1BA can be found in the: Statewide Information Management Manual (SIMM) Section 19A.

Concept Process Phase Checklist

Identifies the key activities that are to be completed during the Concept Process Phase.

The following deliverables are created as a result of the processes and activities completed during this process phase; these are called outputs. Many of these have an associated CA-PMF tool for you to use. These are described in the tools section. The outputs associated with this process phase are listed below:

  • Completed Concept Development and Readiness Assessment
  • Completed High-Level Risk Assessment
  • Draft Stage 1 Business Analysis (PAL)
  • Completed Concept Process Phase Checklist