Published here July 2020

Introduction | An Early View | Why Bother? | A Question to Tom Mochal
Why Does It Matter? | PART 2

Why Bother?

For the past four years I have been contributing to ISO's development of an updated standard for project management. The first edition of ISO 21500 — Guidance on project management[4] was published as an International Standard in September 2012, so its update is now due. This original document had this to say about its project life cycle and how it should start:[5]

"Projects are usually organized into phases that are determined by governance and control needs. These phases should follow a logical sequence, with a start and an end, and should use resources to provide deliverables. In order to manage the project efficiently during the entire project life cycle, a set of activities should be performed in each phase. Project phases are collectively known as the project life cycle.

The project life cycle spans the period from the start of the project to its end …"

While this document included a number of diagrams, it did not include a project life cycle[6] diagram.

However, an early review of this document with a view to extensive updating was held by an ISO working committee in Wels, Austria, February 5 to 16, 2018. For this meeting, a graphic showing the relationships between the project life cycle and managing the project was developed and apparently accepted. Throughout subsequent discussions up to the present, it has remained substantially the same. It is shown here as Figure 1.

Figure 1: Relationship between project lifecycle and managing a project
Figure 1: Relationship between project lifecycle and managing a project[7]
(click to enlarge)

What is interesting about this illustration is that it clearly shows the start of the Project life cycle (see vertical line) followed by the first phase of a project titled "Initiating" — as it should. Now "Initiating" is the act of "Committing the organization to begin a project",[8] or begin any of the subsequent phases for that matter, so all is well and good.

Nonetheless, we now find that there is evidently work to be done before this project start line, as indicated by the circle marked "Pre-project activities". What these "Pre-project activities" are is not made clear in the document at this point.[9] Now, it seems to me that while the officially approved start of the project is somewhere as shown by the vertical line, that is not the "actual start" that I am looking for.

Figure 2 shows a similar concept where a Pre-Project process group is marked as a Study period that delivers a Project Charter that is the start of a set of sequential project phases.

Figure 2: Sequence of project phases made up of process groups
Figure 2: Sequence of project phases made up of process groups[10]

Why does all this bother me? Simply put, because I believe that it is at the beginning of these "Pre-project activities" that is the real starting point of a project's so-called "Front End".[11] So why is this so important? Because it is alleged that many project failures can be sourced to poor judgment or even outright mistakes made in the "Front End".

There is an old saying: "If you want to end right, you have to start right!"

A particular graphic that I am greatly drawn to is one found in a presentation published by Planning Planet describing one of their training modules on project controls.[12]

Figure 3: Project Life Span
Figure 3: Project Life Span

As you can see, the diagram shows conceptually how the five basic production processes are distributed through the life span of a typical project. Most importantly, for this discussion, is the Initiating Process shown colored yellow and how it pre-cedes all other processes. In other words, it sticks out at the front end and presumably represents all those so-called "pre-project activities" that so many are fond of discarding from the main project management responsibilities that follow the "official" start date.

These pre-project activities may be assumed to be those such as:

  • Justifying the official start of the project in the form of a document such as a proposal, project brief, or preliminary business case,
  • Identifying the project sponsor and project leader, and their respective responsibilities,
  • Establishing authorities and project governance generally, and
  • Verifying that resources are available in terms of staff, time and money.

When I ask the question: "When does a project actually start?" — it is at the very beginning of that yellow line that I am interested in. Why? Because, in my view, professional project management calls for the full attention to its components of scope, quality, time, cost and risk, especially time and cost right from the beginning. If that is true, then the very beginning of that yellow line is the basic point of origin of these management activities.

Anything less is project management defrauded.

An Early View  An Early View

4. Currently under review as ISO 21502.
5. First edition of ISO International Standard 21500, 2012-09-01, page 8.
6. Also known as a project life span.
7. Graphic produced for conference in Wels, February 2017, titled Figure 5 Relationship between project lifecycle, managing a project and project management practices. Found in document: ISO 21500 Annotated Outline Consolidated Clean v3 18-09-14. A somewhat similar example is shown in the UK HM Government document Introducing the Project Delivery Standard: A Guide to using the Project Delivery Standard, Version 1.1 issued July 14, 2017, page 13.
8. See
9. However, what is interesting to note is that the author of this graphic does not consider these Pre-project activities to be "real work". As shown, that description only applies to the five phases within the Project life cycle.
10. Found at
11. That part of the project life span that is at the very beginning, or even just before, Wideman Comparative Project Management Glossary v6.1 item D02797.
12. Planning Planet, Guild of Project Controls Compendium and Reference (CaR), training module 01.0 first published on line November 2, 2015, by PP Admin, section
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