A Critical Look at Project Initiation

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

On the face of it, project investment decisions--whether or not an organization should do a project--are objective, reasoned, analytical and rational. But the reality often couldn’t be further from the truth. Why a project becomes a project, and why organizations choose a project over any other possible activity that might be undertaken, is a critical topic for project managers and executives alike. It’s also one that many would like to ignore.

Deciding to undertake a project is an inherently political process, one that wraps its wolfish behavior in a sheepskin of rationality. Where projects come from--and why--has many answers. Many of these answers lead to one route source--someone with a level of power and influence wanted something to happen. The steps that occur along the way define what actually passes for project initiation.

Before I get viewed as being completely cynical, however, it is important to know that some organizations genuinely do conduct an objective and formal analysis of their project opportunities, appropriately evaluate and prioritize them against objective criteria and make reasoned choices based upon independent assessment. There just aren’t many of them. While there are more organizations that have the appearance of objectivity, the actual activities don’t necessarily stand up to scrutiny.

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