Using Project Intake Forms to Optimize Project Initiation

March 7, 2024
9 min read

You’re in the middle of trying to assess progress on your latest project when an email notification pops up on your desktop, alerting you to yet another project request. You click over to your inbox, read the email, and flag it to deal with later — if you remember. Then you switch back to the task management platform where your teams are supposed to be logging their activities. Half a dozen overdue tasks sit untouched; several more languish in the review stage. You’re unlikely to meet the projected deadline at this rate, and you have no idea what’s going on with the budget.

You could avoid all this hassle and headache with a structured project initiation framework. Proper project initiation enables teams across your company to plan, prioritize, and execute important work more efficiently. Everyone knows what tasks they're responsible for and when, so you're not left guessing where to focus.

This clarity keeps teams united around project goals and ensures that all stakeholders stay informed as key milestones are reached. Maintaining open communication around shared objectives reduces time spent chasing down information and keeps projects moving on time and on budget.

A project intake form is the first step in a defined project initiation process. Project intake forms create a standard format for project management requests, capture all relevant project information, and automatically transfer details to a central system to be processed, evaluated, and prioritized.

The role of project intake in successful project management

Project intake is a clearly defined process that standardizes how you capture, assess, and delegate project requests. At its most basic, a well-designed process includes a project intake form, a method to prioritize requests, and a set of next steps to guide project work.

A clear intake process captures and centralizes all necessary information for evaluation before a project begins. Then you can easily compare project details to business goals and determine where to allocate resources for maximum ROI.

Having project details in one place makes it easier to delegate tasks, track progress, and give stakeholders access to relevant information when needed. You spend less time exchanging emails, managing document access, or having last-minute meetings and more time focused on moving projects forward.

Creating an effective project intake form

It's typical for project requests to fly in from everywhere: website forms, email threads, messaging tools, internal collaboration apps — even coworkers showing up at your desk and asking you to do them a favor. It's almost impossible to keep track of every request without losing something important.

If you attempt to wrangle disjointed data into outdated project management tools like spreadsheets, you risk making mistakes that disrupt efficiency during project execution. For your intake process to go smoothly, you need an easy, efficient way to capture project details.

A project intake form narrows the intake process to a single channel. All requests arrive in the same format, making project data easier to understand, categorize, and prioritize. The consistent structure also enables automations that streamline manual processes and free your team from time-consuming gray work.

Project intake form questions typically include:

  • Client name and preferred contact method

  • Business name and contact information

  • Business website address

  • Project type, scope, and complexity

  • Project description and summary

  • Target audience or end user

  • Project goals and outcomes

  • Business case and benefits

  • Available budget range

  • Expected start and end dates

  • Key milestones (if the project is extensive or ongoing)

  • Payment model and timeline

  • Potential risks, challenges, or interruptions that might affect project timelines

  • Additional information or resources to provide context, if needed

For internal requests, intake forms should also ask:

  • Which team is making the request

  • How the project aligns with business goals

To create an effective project intake form, consider the information you need to successfully assess, prioritize, and carry out a project. What details are essential? What information will you need later that you should capture up front? Choose questions that provide as much detail as possible so you don't have to spend extra time emailing or calling customers to clarify project requirements.

After using your request forms for several projects, go back and reassess. Note where you encountered delays due to lack of information, and adjust the questions to ask for more detail. Improve efficiency for future projects by removing questions that haven’t improved the intake or management process.

Streamlining project approvals through structured intake processes

For projects to move from intake to approval, all stakeholders need to understand key information like cost, scope, and potential ROI. Asking the right project intake form questions removes barriers to approval by clarifying what each project involves, the resources required, and how the outcomes benefit the company.

A structured intake process also creates clear approval criteria. Prioritization becomes easier because you can know what types of projects generally get the green light and can present those to stakeholders first.

You can use approval criteria to create a project intake form that facilitates faster, more effective project approvals by:

  • Designing project intake form questions to capture the information stakeholders ask for during the approval process

  • Including questions that define who needs to be included in approval discussions — and who doesn't

  • Making sure information received through the form clearly communicates each project's potential challenges and benefits

Task management begins with proper intake

Task management involves organizing, tracking, and completing the tasks necessary to reach project milestones and successfully deliver on project outcomes. A proper intake process defines a goal you can break down into tasks that move the project forward once its approved.

Use information about the project's scope, timeline, and outcomes to identify:

  • People and teams with the appropriate skills for the job

  • Tasks to assign each team

  • The order in which tasks must be completed

  • Deadlines for each task

  • Metrics to track progress and success

With a well-designed project intake form, you should be able to define key areas quickly. For example, a PMO project intake form provides details the PMO needs to guide project methodology, oversight, and tracking, which contributes to project success by:

  • Eliminating unnecessary tasks that waste time and resources

  • Increasing focus and efficiency across teams

  • Establishing a monitoring framework to ensure tasks are completed on time

  • Streamlining resource allocation to keep the project within budget

When everyone involved in a project knows what to do, when to do it, and why they're doing it, task management becomes a smooth, efficient process that supports successful project execution.

Best practices for managing project intake forms

So, how do you create and manage a project intake form that streamlines project intake, focuses teams around a common goal, and produces the best outcomes for your customers and your business?

First, you actually need to design an intake form. It sounds simple, but many businesses miss this critical step and spend too much time fielding incoming project requests. To avoid falling into the same trap, follow this three-step project intake form design process:

  • Meet with stakeholders. Bring together the executives, departments, and teams involved in project intake and execution. Ask what frustrates them about the current intake process and where they encounter bottlenecks as they work on projects.

  • Determine the information needed. Find out what details are missing from your project intake process and what information would make stakeholders' jobs easier.

  • Work backward to create your form. Use what you learn to decide what project intake form questions are needed to provide enough detail for successful project evaluation, approval, and task management.

Your second step is to set up the intake process in a software platform that automates data capture and consolidation. Automation is crucial for preventing errors and eliminating gray work. When someone submits an intake form, the details immediately arrive in a central location for review — with no lag time and no errors.

Finally, set regular intervals to review your project intake form and process. If you're still wasting time hunting down information during planning or execution, it's a sign that your intake form needs updating.

Challenges and solutions of project intake form management

PMOs face many project management challenges, many of which can be traced back to a flawed intake process. Here are some common problems — and how proper project intake form management can help overcome them:

  • Project information lacks clarity and specificity. Consult with stakeholders across the company to define needs and requirements for project intake, evaluation, prioritization, and planning. Update your project intake form questions to capture these details.

  • Information gets lost between intake and evaluation. Streamline your intake process with a software platform that offers custom form building, syncs data in real time, and automates task scheduling and management.

  • Requests continue to come in through other channels. Establish or update organizational best practices for intake management to clearly communicate the updated process.

  • You struggle to prioritize and delegate. Use software that consolidates and clearly presents current project, task, and resource allocation data. Review this information to inform PMO decisions.

  • Projects go over time, budget, or both. Design your intake form to capture project scope and resource needs in as much detail as possible. Review current projects to determine if teams have enough capacity to take on additional work while adhering to deadlines and resource limits.

  • Projects are frequently more complex than expected. Ensure your project intake form questions request detailed information about scope and resource requirements.

  • Forms become irrelevant as business goals change. Schedule regular meetings to review business needs and company goals. Update project intake forms as soon as possible to reflect new focus areas.

Improve your project intake forms to streamline project management

Proper project intake creates a standardized process that clarifies project details from the start and makes it easier to prioritize projects for approval, allocate resources, and delegate tasks. Approvals go faster, so teams can spend more time working rather than scrambling for additional information to make a business case for every project.

Once projects are approved, information from your project intake form eliminates key project management challenges to support efficiency and move projects to completion on time and on (or under) budget.

An efficient, streamlined project intake process is essential in today’s era of dynamic work. Teams can no longer afford to wade through disjointed collections of messages and spreadsheets to find information for their next task. A well-designed project intake form allows information to flow freely, eliminates silos between departments, and reduces the risk of costly project delays. When project intake goes smoothly, your entire company becomes more productive, efficient, and profitable.

Quickbase can help you control your most complex projects from intake to completion. Sign up for a free trial to get started.