When does a project start and end?

There seems to be an attempt by many senior managers to make their project managers responsible for all aspects of a project from understanding the business need through to realising the benefits years after the project has finished. Whilst this can seem a very effective ‘buck passing’ to blame someone else for another failure, it is hardly fair or reasonable and is highly detrimental to the organisation.

PMI and the new ISO21500 have the view a project starts when it is officially started and it finishes when it has delivered all of the required deliverables. This raises a number of sensible considerations.

Starting a project
Only the managers of an organisation are in a position to determine its strategic direction and then identify and prioritise the ‘needs’ that require meeting to implement the strategy. After a ‘need’ is defined a project can be initiated to deliver the required outputs. This does not mean the business managers need to have a fully defined specification but they must know how much they know about what’s required:

  • If the requirements are clearly understood, a project can be initiated with defined time and cost parameters and limited contingencies.
  • If the requirements need to be defined or clarified, the project needs to be established with success criteria understood, adequate time and cost contingencies in place and a ‘gateway’ process defined to ascertain the ongoing viability of the project as the requirements are progressively firmed up. If the project continues to offer a valuable contribution to the organisation it should continue. If its value drops below an acceptable level it should be terminated at the appropriate gateway review.

The PMBOK® Guide is relatively silent in these areas but there’s plenty of good information available from OGC and the Association for Project Management in the UK.

Finishing a project
Whilst the project manager needs to be aware of the value proposition for the project, to assist in decision making within the project, the project manager can only be responsible for delivering the required outputs optimised to the needs of the organisation. The rest of the value chain is dependent on the organisation’s line managers making effective use of the outputs to change the way the business actually works and instigate positive changes to realise the benefits that create value to the organisation.

For more on this topic see two earlier blogs:
Value is in the Eye of the Stakeholder
The Scope of Change

More in a couple of days on understanding the degree of certainty involved in projects.


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