One of the characteristics of a project is that it is a temporary endeavor. In other words there is a start and end-date. This seems simple enough until you start to try to define exactly what these dates mean. Is it after the Project Charter is signed? Is it when the schedule is finalized?
There are no universally recommended definition for either date. It depends on each organization and whether there are any implications for choosing one alternative over another. Here are some of the options for identifying the project start-date.
- The need/idea is generated. The definition you choose can depend on what the implication is. You may choose this definition of project start date if your company is trying to focus on the time it takes between when an idea is generated until the idea is fulfilled. Your company may be concerned that it takes too long to commercialize good ideas. If your company wants to minimize this total time span between idea and fulfillment, you might go with an early project start-date definition like this.
- A budget is approved. In this definition, an idea has been generated and the idea has made it far enough that a cost/benefit statement has been prepared. The project has also made it through the prioritization process and an actual budget has been approved. Keep in mind that the budget may have been approved during the prior year business planning process. The actual work may not start until the following year. Therefore, this definition may also start the clock too early for many organizations.
- A project manager is assigned. This one is more common. The assumption here is that the project manager is the first resource assigned to a project. When the project manager is assigned, the project initiation and planning begins. This is the definition for project start-date in the TenStep Project Management Process.
- The Project Charter is approved by the sponsor. In some organizations the project officially starts when the sponsor approves the Project Charter. Some companies require an approved Project Charter and schedule before the project team can be allocated.
- The project kickoff meeting is held. Using this definition, the planning work is considered to be “pre-project”. The projects starts with a formal kickoff meeting with the major stakeholders and the project team. The kickoff meeting is the time to tell everyone that the project is ready to begin.
In some respects the exact definition of the project start is not as important as whether the definition is applied consistently. For example, if you wanted to compare the time it takes for two projects to complete, it is important that both projects use the same definition for start and end date.