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Posted by on Aug 3, 2012

Before Charter (B.C.) Project Management

In classic project Initiation, we start with the Charter. But is there Before Charter (B.C.)? Project Managers know it happens, yet we may not be directly involved. I call this the Ideation Phase where I am charged with getting the idea out of the sponsors head and begin to turn it into some concrete documentation. How do we turn ideas into reality and should every idea actually live?

The answer to the second question (should every idea actually live?) is a resounding NO, but how we answer the first question (how do we turn ideas into reality?) will obviate the second. Recent work with a Government Department opened my eyes to an interesting process they call Concept Definition.

Concept Definition
The purpose of Concept Definition is to evaluate projects and to reach consensus from appropriate senior leadership to proceed into the next phase of the project or stop. Several deliverables are required: a Strategic Statement of Need, an initial cost estimate, and an initial business case. It all starts with the sponsor and their idea. Hopefully, a good project manager is assigned to conduct the Concept Definition, but don’t forget that a project doesn’t actually exist yet, just an idea.

Strategic Statement of Need
Working with the sponsor, we would define the new capability and identify any current capability gaps. We would look at Processes and Systems, Safety, Environment, Personnel, and Benefits. Sometimes the answer is not something new, it’s just improving existing capabilities. In order to make that decision, we conduct a needs assessment for each of the capabilities and capability gaps and tie it back to the strategic plan of the organization. Often we find that other parts of the Department have a similar issue and we can capitalize on the internal (or external) synergies. Capability gaps and human performance deficiencies are prioritized as part of the assessment.

This needs assessment clarifies whether something new is required or not. We identify the need for non-real property/real property, and non-material/recommended material solutions for further development. The capability gaps and needs assessment support the Benefit-Cost analysis. All of this information is captured in the Strategic Statement of Need as evidence to support the decision of the “appropriate senior leadership”.

Cost Estimate
Remember, this is very early in the process so any cost estimate is preliminary, but necessary. Within the Federal world, we may be submitting an initial OMB Exhibit-300 document. Since this is directly tied to the Department budget and the Congressional Budget Cycle, it is extremely important to analyze future funding to the most detailed level possible, understanding that budgets and additional cost estimates will refine the figures. We are trying to predict costs with not much information to justify the project and to begin to define boundaries for the future acquisitions.

Business Case
A preliminary business case is also prepared during the Concept Definition phase. This documentation is carried forward into the next phase of the project if it is authorized by the appropriate senior leadership.

Probably, you are working with a very small team at this point: you and the sponsor. There isn’t a project yet, only an idea. No project budget has been established so most of this work may be overhead. There isn’t even a Project Manager assigned because there is no project to assign him or her to and the first step in the new project is to assign a PM. You are most likely using local resources to assist you in the fact finding mission which is Concept Definition. Doing a good job at this phase is essential as it will assist the strategic decision makers in justifying that the project is aligned with the business.

Now that all the information is collected and properly documented, the Decision Authority will review it and make the decision to proceed with the project or let the idea die with dignity. At every step, there are processes and guidance to assist you in producing the best final product.

I’d love to hear about your B.C. processes and assist you with improving what you have.

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