Pre-Initiation Project Management: Cart Before Horse?

Pre-Initiation Project Management: Cart Before Horse?

Many organizations (and project managers) feel the project starts with Initiating Phase - a lot needs to happen before then!

A Merry Christmas Cart A

So, what happens long before a project starts?   According to the Project Management Institute’s PMBOK, there is plenty of activity before the actual project initiation, or first phase of the project.   It is these pre-initiation tactics that we need to address.

Projects don’t just magically spawn into an initiation phase – contrary to many, there is significant work that must be done prior to this initiation, according to the PMBOK, “Within the Initiating processes, the initial scope is defined, and initial financial resources are committed.”  We need to look at what this statement is referring to.  Within the phase, scope and financial resources are committed. That is well and good, but truly it does not happen that everyone comes to work one day, and it is just instantly decided we will spend $1.5 million and create a new super widget. In other words, what happens is project initiation not initiation of the concept or source.

 Maybe we need to make Cart A…or are we  making Cart B?

No, there must be a large amount of forethought and planning…things (and projects) don’t just instantly happen in most industries. A simple example could be we’re starting a project to manufacture a cart. But what does that mean?  There are several types of carts in the world…we can’t just say a cart.  It could be cart A or cart B or any number of variations up to hundreds, thousands, or even more.

Plain old utility Cart B

The definition must be made “outside the project boundaries.” (PMI, Location 1408) In other words, long before we commence with the initiation phase, some decisions need to be made. Without this understanding going into the project how could we ever expect success?

This simple example of Cart A and Cart B show how clarification of understanding must first exist.

Sure, during the project phases we will initiate, fund, determine stakeholders and most importantly, plan.  The plan will be made of multiple plans, but at least, the plan should contain two plans.  One, what exactly the project “product,” in this case carts, is going to be.  We have a general idea when we start, but the plan needs to be made at a detail level, so we can know what to expect.  If we don’t know exactly what we are building, how can we do the second plan, or “project plan,” where we actually bring in all facets…who will make what…how many people will we need…what kind of schedule will accommodate the build….how much is all of this going to cost over what time period…and on and on and on.   This is where the project truly forms around the eventual goal…and the achievement of this goal is the ultimate success or failure of the product or service…and ultimately the project.




(PMI) Project Management Institute. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Fifth Edition (ENGLISH). Project Management Institute. Kindle Edition.


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