This is a subject that has been on my mind for quite some time. Let me explain.
The English language is very flexible, and different interpretations can be taken away from a simple statement or simple question like "When does a project start?" For example, that question could be interpreted as "When does a project officially start?" The answer to this could be when a project mandate is approved, such as in a suitably worded Business Case. Or it could be upon the issuance of a Project Charter, or the signing of a contract, or even an authorization given at an official board meeting and recorded in the minutes.
But before we get into the meaning of this simple question, we should be clear on what we mean by a "project" in the first place. Some current "official" definitions of the term "project" include:
- PMBOK Guide 6th Edition: "Project. A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result." Note: Since the endeavor is "temporary", it must have a beginning and an end."
- At this time (2020), PMI's PMBOK Guide 7th Edition is under extensive revision. An early draft circulated includes the same definition of "project" as in the previous edition. It also has this to say: "The temporary nature of projects indicates a beginning and an end to the project work. A project ends in one of two ways: [etc.]" However, there is no mention of how a project gets started, and especially no mention of how it should get started!
- The ISO definition in general states that a project is a: "temporary endeavor created to produce agreed deliverables." Or alternatively, a: "temporary endeavor to achieve one or more defined objectives."
- A brief trip to the Wideman Comparative Glossary of Project Management and you will find no less than 34 different interpretive nuances of the term "project", almost all of which describe some sort of process, each with significantly more clarification. If you go to my most recent Glossary, you will find around 40 varying definitions of the term "project", many of which touch on the issue of starting the project, but none exactly define it.
However, one of the earliest definitions that appear to be the most relevant, quotes from the original PMBOK 1987 document. This definition states:
"Any undertaking with a defined starting point and defined objectives … Etc." (Emphasis added.)
1. For the popular definitions of "project", go to the Wideman Comparative Glossary of Project Management Terms v5.5 see this page: maxwideman.com/pmglossary/PMG_P12.htm#Project
2. See maxwideman.com/PMBOK1987reborn/intro.htm