I believe that irrespective of any arbitrary notional "start-date" assigned for purposes of project bookkeeping, contract compliance or perhaps political gain, the real and absolute project start is when any money is spent on a particular project objective.
That is, when any effort, time and money from any source whatsoever, is spent specifically in the pursuit of a particular project to create any form of asset. That includes all so-called "front-end" work such as conceptualizing, preliminary planning, justification, organization, financing, sourcing, and necessary approvals. In fact, the owner of any potential project must typically and necessarily accept the cost of all of this effort up front. It may be absorbed into the organization's general overhead, or charged to the anticipated project's cost account, before the work of asset production actually begins. Whichever way the work is costed, it is still an essential part of the project life span.
Unfortunately, in many project management standards this work, and cost, is glibly passed over as "Pre-project activity". Yet it is vital to the success of a project, even if, at this stage, it does not warrant the full time attention of a project manager.
It is my hope that with this knowledge being brought to front and center in our practice of serious project management, the rate of project successes will then be significantly improved.
R. Max Wideman
13. In many jurisdictions these costs in particular are permitted to be included in the company's tax claims for the capital cost allowance for the project in question.