Monday, August 8, 2011

How to Define the Starting Point of a Project

In whatever project, there are start and end points. Determining these points is essential in many respects. However, to some certain extent, you might think that it doesn’t really matter when the project starts or ends. Having a somewhat undefined period does not take away from the fact that the work is a project or if it's successful.

There is no universally recommended standard for either date; it depends on what the implication of the decision is. But I just think that it's harder to pinpoint where, how and when to start rather than to end. So I've thought it hard and came up with a list. Here, then, are options which you can consider in defining the project's start date:

1. When the Initial Idea is Crafted

Some organizations focus on the time between when an idea is generated. Unfortunately, tracking exactly when the project's original idea was created is very difficult. Likewise, many variables might have came in after already which might have delayed the "beginning stage."

2. When a Budget is Approved

This definition is a little more concrete than the prior idea. In this mark, an idea has been generated and has made it far enough along that a cost/benefit statement has been prepared. The project has also made it through the prioritization process and an actual budget has been approved. Keep in mind that the budget may have been approved during the prior year’s business planning process. The actual work may not start until the following year. Hence, this again might seem to start the clock too early.

3. When a Project Manager is Assigned

This one is more common. It’s hard to say that a project has started before a project manager is assigned. When the project manager is assigned, the project planning and definition begins and the meat of the project starts.

4. When the Project Charter is Fulfilled

In some cases, the project officially starts when the customer approves the Project Charter document. Some companies require an approved Project Charter and schedule before the project team can be allocated. They do this to ensure that the upfront agreement is in place before project work begins.

5. When the Kickoff Meeting is Held

This means that the planning and definition work is considered to be “pre-project” work. All projects start with a formal kickoff meeting between the client and project team. When this is held, the planning has been completed, the client has approved starting the work and the project team has been allocated. Then it's the time to tell everyone that the project is set to begin.

Why is the Start Date Important?

This is because there may be consequences and incentives based on how long it takes to complete a project. I'll take project team accountability as an example.

It is hard to hold people accountable for things that are not within their control, right? For this reason, it makes sense that a project manager is held accountable for the project no earlier than when he or she is assigned. If the project clock starts before the assignment of people resources, they may have no control of some decisions that were previously expended. Thus, it is hard to hold them accountable for work and decisions that take place before they are assigned.

Another example is measurement of process improvement. Many companies keep track of the total duration of projects and attempt to shorten the average project duration over time. It is important that everyone within the company use a common starting and ending point. Otherwise, the project duration numbers will not be meaningful. Think efficiency and productivity! :D