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When does a project really start?
Network:60024



A very interesting a thought provoking question, project managers wonder about is "When does a project really start?"

I have been explaining it to my students but still many similar questions keep pouring in. I recently received following question:
In PMBOK the End of project is clearly defined as:
a) when project objectives are met
b) when project is terminated... and
c) need for the project no longer exists.
However, what clearly marks the Start of a project?
I tried hard to get a clear definition for it. In one of your video lectures you said the day we start to spend project money then that day project has started.
Your example was the passport digitization project where you visited the project office after a year and the PM telling you that the project has yet not started.
What marks the START of a project?


TEMPORARY ENDEAVOR

Well, every project manager has his own definition of the start and end of the project. PMBOK Guide, 5th Edition, clearly defines a project as a TEMPORARY ENDEAVOR. Some people think that a Temporary Endeavor means a fixed date to start and a fixed date to finish a project. I have reservation to that interpretation. If the two dates are already known and fixed then project manager has absolutely no flexibility to plan. I do agree there me be some constraints imposed on a project and these kinds of fixed dates may be one of those constraints, but we should not take that as a norm. Sometimes you may have to start a project by a certain date and sometimes you may have a constraint to finish a project by a specific date. Even sometimes you may even have a more difficult situation when a project is constrained by both of these dates, but that may be an exception rather than a mandatory condition. We must understand the constraints will restrict the independence of the project manager in planning, but they sometimes are a necessity rather than convenience.

CONSTRAINTS

I would say, a project manager must understand all the project requirements, constraints, limitations, risks, and assumptions, when he is assigned the project. That is exactly when we have to start identifying the stakeholders immediately after the charter has been issued. Some people think that all requirements are given in the charter and project manager need not waste any further time in identification of stakeholders and collection of requirements. Remember, the charter, the business case, the statement of work, and the agreement or contract, all these documents do describe the scope at a specific level of detail but not at the level required to plan and execute the project. Project manager is the the one who has to deal with the changing requirements of the stakeholders at the minutest levels, so that high level scope will not serve the purpose, except for getting the scope further elaborated during planning. Naturally, further constraints and limitations will keep getting introduced and project manager will keep adjusting and complying to them during the project life cycle. So the best approach for project manager during initiation would be to understand all the constraints and limitations and then during planning he has to do her own detailed analysis of the requirements after having collected them further from identified stakeholders, because that would add more detailed constraints and limitations, which project manager will have to comply with.

BEST CASE AND WORST CASE SCENARIOS

Project manager should start planning only after she has well understood the whole situation and has a good grasp on the matter under consideration. I will strongly suggest that initial plan when being brainstormed should be free from consideration of any constraints. Although it looks odd to say you should not consider any constraints at this stage but that will give you an optimist's view how a project can be done, that is your best case scenario. Then you plan again with a pessimist's point of view where you consider all possible constraints and risks (not only those which have already been known through requirement gathering but even more), would give you the worst case scenario. Now you must be sure that these are the two extreme limits within which the project can positively be accomplished with a little ease or difficulty. but beyond these two extremities, it is impossible to perform the project. Now that you practically know your limits, it is the time to put the constraints imposed on you by the project environment, stakeholders and other sources. If your project is still doable, it will form a shape (start and finish dates) within the two extreme limits of best and worst case scenarios, you had earlier defined. Else you would know, either it is impossible to perform this project or you have to creatively bring major changes to the scope, time or cost to make it doable. Whole of this exercise will contribute positively in determining the start and finish dates of your project.

POINT TO START THE PROJECT

In the discussion so far, we have focused on determining the start and finish dates of the project, with a emphasis on the execution of various activities and the schedule. Does that mean initiation and planning is not to be included in the schedule? That may be a wrong assumption. Projects are not only the implementation or execution part, but must have a point in time where project should have actually started much before execution could start. What should be that point?

PRE-PROJECT AND PROJECT WORK

First of all, we must debate and decide what all should be included in project and what should be considered a pre-project work. This definition is different in different organizations, cultures and industries. Some people consider the project to have started when the idea of the project was conceived, which, in a way, is not wrong as it is a befitting translation of the start of a life cycle. But the fine difference between hand-off from the organizational operation to the project start must be defined. As shown earlier, project life cycle could be stretched all the way back to inception or feasibility of the project, or we may decide charter, the final authorization to mobilize the resources for the project, to be the start of the project. In the later case all work before issuance of charter would be treated as pre-project work and will fall in operational responsibilities of the organization. Maybe that pre-project work falls under senior management, portfolio or program manager or even the business analyst. The cut-off have to be decided and therefore we can safely say, project should start only when it has been authorized. A little overlap in preparing that authorization (charter) and issuance of that authorization could also be treated as part of the project, as per PMBOK Guide, 5th Edition.

So we understand, generally the Statement of Work has already been issued by the customer (internal or external), organization through their business analysts or senior management has already developed a business case, and decided to propose their solution for that project, which have finally been accepted and an agreement reached. This was all the pre-project work, which we generally assume, must have been done before the launch of the project itself. That means all expenses for these activities are not part of the project but is considered organizational investment, which could have all gone waste if this project never end s up being awarded to us, which is by no means the fault of the project manager, who has not even been assigned as yet.

WHO IS PROJECT SPONSOR?

Only after tall this pre-project work has been accomplished, will the senior management assign a senior executive as Project Sponsor, a single point of contact for all key stakeholders, which are generally considered as project sponsors. We would like to call these various project sponsors as key stakeholders for ease of understanding as if we do not misconstrue the term Project Sponsor, who is considered here as a single entity representing all key stakeholders or you may organize them in to a 'Project Board'. This settles here the question if there is only one project sponsor or many, for a project. We have no problem with many project sponsors except for the fact we want the project to take all its orders, permissions, approvals and acceptance from one single entity who may represent many others.

So now, we have tied up the project start to charter which will be given by the project sponsor and he would be representing a project board which may include elements or representatives of senior management, customers/user, and contractors/consultants. Another point, which is asked in this regard is, who signs the project charter?

WHO SIGNS PROJECT CHARTER?

Project Charter falls in the responsibility of Project Sponsor, and for all practical purposes and fro the point of view of the project manager, Project Sponsor is the one who is authorizing the project, so he is mostly the signatory of the Project Charter. Project manager can never be the author of this document, while his efforts maybe requested by the Project Sponsor in helping it shape up. Project Manager will never sign the charter as the author of this document but if he is asked to write it, he would only write the mindset of the Project Sponsor and the the signatory will remain as Project Sponsor. Now Project Sponsor is representing the Project Board and naturally, the preparation and approval of charter is mutually decided by the Project Board, sometimes it can be required by the senior management that they or all the members of Project Board sign the charter. But if there is no such restriction, Project Sponsor is the one signing it, as a delegated authority to him by the Project Board. The Project Manager can only sign the charter as the receiver of the document.

Now coming over to another aspect: "how would anyone know that a project has started?"

Has the Project started?

For an outsider, a simple check would be that the project budget can only be spent on the project activities. Wherever, the organization has drawn a line between pre-project and project work, that defines when the spending should begin. If the expenses are being carried out from the project head, it is simple to say that project activities must have been performed, or else all this spending is unjustified. I usually say that a project deems to have started, as soon as first penny from project budget has been spent. Those who do not define the start of the project clearly, might be thinking the project has yet not started but still making huge spending from the project head, means they have no clue about the start date of the project, and you will get varying views from them when asked about the project start date.

I can express that in another way. All the work that has to be carried out to meet project requirements is within the scope of the project. Project start can be defined as soon as any activity of the project starts because budget will be spent on that activity, no matter if it was scheduled to be the first activity or not. A project cannot finish until and unless all work within the scope of the project has been completed and all requirements of the project have been met. That means project cannot be declared complete before all the project activities have actually finished.

HOPE THIS CLARIFIES THE QUERY ASKED AND EXPRESSES MY JUSTIFICATION.
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For me a project starts from the idea
Network:488



The project start has many facets and the answer would depend on which stakeholder you ask. For the project sponsor it starts as soon as the first minute is billed against the project code. For the customer the vendor project starts at contract signature but internally it's been going for months. For the end user the project starts at project kick off.

Officially a project starts when the project charter is signed off. Don't have a project charter? Then monetary expenditure would be the best trigger.
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1 reply by Vincent Guerard
May 17, 2017 11:09 PM
Vincent Guerard
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Think that is good and clear
Network:1201



Depends. Could be at the inception, discussions around the effort, to proceed or not. Not all projects are capital, with no budget, executed by a team of pre-allocated consultants - so in that case no money is specifically spent on these initiatives.

If I had to draw a line in the sand, I would say when the project charter is signed/approved as the 'official' start of a project.
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1 reply by Anton Oosthuizen
May 17, 2017 4:42 AM
Anton Oosthuizen
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I have to strongly disagree with the statement "Not all projects are capital, with no budget, executed by a team of pre-allocated consultants - so in that case no money is specifically spent on these initiatives."

Nothing can be further from the truth. While not all projects are revenue generating they all have a cost associated. Whether that cost is billed back to a customer is actual irrelevant since the effort (Cost) must still be tracked to monitor performance. This is probably one of the most expensive mistakes PMs make - to just give away additional scope. Even if the decision is made that the cost will be absorbed by the project, or if it is a non profit venture, there is still cost involved and it should be tracked. Of subject - if it is a scope change a zero value change request must be raised because the 'zero' is relevant in only one direction, in the opposite direction the cost still exist.
Network:1143



Suhail,

You give an excellent and thought provoking discourse on a very basic, (but often misconstrued), concept. I am sure that this will spark some interesting discussion.

I have held to the belief that the Project Charter is the starting point of a project as it is the document that formally establishes and authorizes the project to proceed. I agree with Anton that in the absence of a formal Project Charter, expenditure would indicate the start.
Network:649



For me the appointment of a project manager would be a key point; at that point resource, even if only an individuals time, is being committed. The project charter becomes the point where the project is formalised and additional resources are being formally committed. At any point the 'project' can be put aside as an idea to be learnt from or to be revisited at some point.
Network:1051



A project may get initiated after evaluation of business case or after contract is signed off with external parties/clients.
However, when a project charter is created and project manager is assigned, then the project actually starts.
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1 reply by Jess De Ocampo
May 19, 2017 7:39 AM
Jess De Ocampo
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I agree with Sonali. Based on experience, the project actually starts after the project charter has been signed and agreed upon by all parties concerned.
But of course, prior to the creation of the project charter, the team would first brainstorm on the specific details such as assignment of team members, estimation of costs: hard costs and soft costs; risk assessment, etc. which must be all documented in the project charter.
Network:488



May 16, 2017 6:18 AM
Replying to Andrew Craig
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Depends. Could be at the inception, discussions around the effort, to proceed or not. Not all projects are capital, with no budget, executed by a team of pre-allocated consultants - so in that case no money is specifically spent on these initiatives.

If I had to draw a line in the sand, I would say when the project charter is signed/approved as the 'official' start of a project.
I have to strongly disagree with the statement "Not all projects are capital, with no budget, executed by a team of pre-allocated consultants - so in that case no money is specifically spent on these initiatives."

Nothing can be further from the truth. While not all projects are revenue generating they all have a cost associated. Whether that cost is billed back to a customer is actual irrelevant since the effort (Cost) must still be tracked to monitor performance. This is probably one of the most expensive mistakes PMs make - to just give away additional scope. Even if the decision is made that the cost will be absorbed by the project, or if it is a non profit venture, there is still cost involved and it should be tracked. Of subject - if it is a scope change a zero value change request must be raised because the 'zero' is relevant in only one direction, in the opposite direction the cost still exist.
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1 reply by Andrew Craig
May 17, 2017 9:50 AM
Andrew Craig
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Anton, you have misinterpreted my comment. My response is not meant as a blanket statement for how to, or representative of, project management practices.

Further, there is no mention of scope, effort, or schedule tracking in my comment. So while I appreciate your comment, the story created around my response is unwarranted.
Network:1230



It depends on your project life cycle. With all my due respect, any other thing to take into account has no sense. For example, if the organization is using PRINCE2 then the project start with pre-project activities. So, to understand that the whole organization and the business analyst as a role is accountable to decide the project life cycle is a must.
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2 replies by Anupam Ganguly and Vincent Guerard
May 17, 2017 9:54 PM
Anupam Ganguly
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Agree
May 17, 2017 11:14 PM
Vincent Guerard
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Agree, PRINCE2 is clear on srart
Network:1201



May 17, 2017 4:42 AM
Replying to Anton Oosthuizen
...
I have to strongly disagree with the statement "Not all projects are capital, with no budget, executed by a team of pre-allocated consultants - so in that case no money is specifically spent on these initiatives."

Nothing can be further from the truth. While not all projects are revenue generating they all have a cost associated. Whether that cost is billed back to a customer is actual irrelevant since the effort (Cost) must still be tracked to monitor performance. This is probably one of the most expensive mistakes PMs make - to just give away additional scope. Even if the decision is made that the cost will be absorbed by the project, or if it is a non profit venture, there is still cost involved and it should be tracked. Of subject - if it is a scope change a zero value change request must be raised because the 'zero' is relevant in only one direction, in the opposite direction the cost still exist.
Anton, you have misinterpreted my comment. My response is not meant as a blanket statement for how to, or representative of, project management practices.

Further, there is no mention of scope, effort, or schedule tracking in my comment. So while I appreciate your comment, the story created around my response is unwarranted.
...
1 reply by Anton Oosthuizen
May 17, 2017 9:55 AM
Anton Oosthuizen
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Andrew, My response was not meant as an attack but rather a strong statement. If it came across as such please accept my apology.
Network:488



May 17, 2017 9:50 AM
Replying to Andrew Craig
...
Anton, you have misinterpreted my comment. My response is not meant as a blanket statement for how to, or representative of, project management practices.

Further, there is no mention of scope, effort, or schedule tracking in my comment. So while I appreciate your comment, the story created around my response is unwarranted.
Andrew, My response was not meant as an attack but rather a strong statement. If it came across as such please accept my apology.
...
1 reply by Andrew Craig
May 17, 2017 1:03 PM
Andrew Craig
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Sure, not a problem Anton. I wanted to at least make my response clear. Thank you, for clarifying your response. I appreciate that.
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