Published here July 2020

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

A Question to Tom Mochal

While this matter has been on my mind for some time, it has received a lot of project management attention. Indeed, if you Google "When does a project start?" you will get a response of over four billion! And guess what, as one of the earliest amongst a reported 4,000,000,000 responses you could get this: Max's Musings - When Does a Project Really Start (and Finish). That link takes you to a Musings on my web site that recounts a discussion I once had with Tom Mochal[13] on this exact topic. And that was 10 years ago.

Tom's advice was inclusive as you will see if you visit that page. He listed and described each of the following potential dates:

  • When the idea is generated
  • When a budget is approved
  • When a project manager is assigned
  • When the project charter[14] is approved
  • When the project kickoff meeting is held

But, as I pointed out at the time, all of those are types of authorization that simply reside within management's purview. As such, each set date could come and go without any actual project progress being conducted.

So why does the subject still bother me? Because I am looking for that illusive instant in time when the first work actually began, regardless of official dates set by management, business cases, project charters, plans and schedules, political implications or sheer accident. In this vein, Tom expressed the following opinion:

"To a certain extent, you might think that it doesn't really matter when the project starts. Having a somewhat undefined start date does not take away from the fact that the work is a project. It's obvious that the project started at some point, since there was a point when the work was not in progress and a point where the work is in progress. So, at some point the project did in fact 'start'."[15]

Why is the project start date so important, I asked. Again, Tom provides his insight:

"The reason it is important to know the start date is that there may be consequences and incentives based on how long it takes to complete a project. The following are examples of these consequences:

  • Project team accountability.
  • Process improvement.
  • Financial / accounting.
  • Comparisons with other companies."

Tom goes on to say:

"All projects have a start date. But knowing exactly when a project starts is something that companies can define differently."[16]

Exactly so, but that is not exactly what I am looking for. I am not looking for some arbitrary fiat of upper management that happens to suit some strategy or other. By definition, a project has a start and an end date. In other words, "start", as well as end, are fundamental parts of the concept of managing projects. If that is true, then surely there should be some way of establishing an unequivocal definition of the act of starting a project — something embedded in genuine professional management practice, especially for asserting best practices.

Why Bother?  Why Bother?

13. Tom Mochal is President of TenStep, Inc., a company focused on methodology development, training and consulting. He is an expert instructor and consultant on project management
14. Other documents with similar intent could be included here, such as: Project Business Case; Project Initiation Document (PID); Statement of Work; or some form of Contract Document.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid.
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