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Monday, 07 September 2009 00:00

Project Inception or Birth?

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The term 'Inception Phase' is often used to signify a project's beginning. Isn’t it really the birth? There are many similarities between a project's lifecycle and this familial analogy.

Inception happens much earlier with a glass of wine, maybe two. That first thought, “Hey, wouldn’t it be neat if we had a…” Complete the sentence to fit the situation. It is at this point that the ball gets rolling, so to speak, and someone decides to invest some time to explore the possibility of making something happen. The originator courts the business manager, selling the concept of the idea, until there is approval to move forward. Voilà! It is conceived. Someone commits to carry and nurture the project, allowing it to incubate and mature into a viable form that can properly benefit the organization as a final product. After the proper gestation, the project is born and has a team assigned. This is the transition that many methodologies errantly label inception.

The project team provides the parental guidance to help the project’s product grow to the point of self-sufficiency. As the product grows, so do the trials and tribulations; the last few months of the project, the adolescent stage, are rife with complications, drama and scope creep. The customer asking, “Why can’t I have one of these? All the cool kids have one.” The stress increases the closer the project gets to completion. Will the product pass all its requisite tests to qualify it for graduation to a released product?

With product release, comes graduation. The acknowledgment that the project’s product has passed all its tests, fulfilling the graduation requirements, includes the ceremonial pomp and circumstance surrounding the release. The project team, now empty nesters, are left to do the retrospectives; reflecting upon what they did right and what they could have done differently. They capture their recollections for future teams, providing them the opportunity to avoid the same pitfalls on other projects. Projects, however, like people come up with new and imaginative ways to cause their team’s grief and anguish. Some new teams simply disregard the advice, doomed to execute the same mistakes.

The product continues through its life until retirement and end-of-life, which are often nearly coincident.

The Reason

Why is this analogy important? Why should anyone care if it is called inception or birth? For a number of reasons. The biggest is that the project starts long before the team that develops is involved. People initiating the project need to understand that supplier involvement is crucial. With their early involvement, comes the understanding of the premise that the project’s value is based upon. This knowledge gives the project team the data to choose the right methodology, the right technology and have the guidance to know the rigor in which to build the product.

How to Help

A Guidance Team, a small group of Project Managers and Architects, can provide this benefit. They counsel the customer at the real inception phase on the risks and technologies to help maintain expectations. They then follow the project through its incubation period and into its infancy, guiding the scope, maintaining a focus on the original goals and providing an project audit function to maintain project’s intent. The result is a reduction in project failures.

This is discussed further in this months article in the PMI Portland Newsletter.

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