What Should the Front-End Embody?
As we consider the genesis of a project, we need to look at the context where it emerges. A project does not exist in isolation but is dependent on various factors (both internal and external) that are complex and uncertain. Analysis of the project environment can facilitate the project to position itself carefully to its environment and align its objectives and management.
During the front-end, decisions are made at the intersection between the "professional" and "political" parties and where legislative priorities might have a greater impact than rational decision-making judgment.
Within the public domain, major public projects may act as a political decision-making process. That is, politicians may use such a neutral administrative mechanism to execute the policies adopted by the elected legislative bodies. The political environment thus impacts the project indirectly through the strategic context of the organization created by the decisions made by the top management.
During the front-end of major public projects, the formation of project strategy and consequent significant decisions are not usually made solely by individuals. Rather, they reflect the "social geography and politics" of decision-making groups. They may also show the negative impacts of political biases, preferences, and pressures on the estimation of project costs and benefits.
The business case or project proposal
Early in the project lifecycle, the importance of a well-written Business Case, sometimes referred to as Project Proposal, is well recognized. In general, professional bodies consider the Business Case as essential for any project or program, although many organizations are reluctant to assert that they follow this advice. Key aspects of the document may be summarized as follows:
- The Business case captures the quantitative and qualitative justification for the initiation of a project or program;
- It is prepared during the early stages of a prospective project as a basis for the decision on the feasibility of the project;
- It can range from voluminous, comprehensive and well-structured, to brief and informal;
- It assesses the cost, benefits, timescales, and risk of alternative options, or the option of doing nothing, and provides a rationale for the preferred solution;
- It establishes baselines against which the project progresses and success can be measured;
- It is a living document to reflect the change of the project environment; and
- It is initiated by the executive or manager above the project level (maybe with the assistance of the project manager), re-evaluated at the end of each project phase gate or critical decision point, and maintained throughout the project lifecycle by the project manager.
In the UK, the HM Treasury recommends the "Five Case Model" as a standard for the development of Business Cases. It is used extensively within central government departments and their agencies. The model sets out to establish a case for investment by preparing five key cases: strategic, economic, commercial, financial, and management.
Our authors identify three main elements of project control provided by a Business Case:
- The evaluation and prioritization of project proposals;
- The on-going monitoring of the feasibility of evolving projects; and
- The tracking of benefits realization following the project's closure.
12. Ibid, section 4, p5
13. Ibid, section 4.1.2, p6