When should you start a project (and when should you kill it)?

When should a project start?

Just because you have been asked to be involved in a project when it is starting out, you shouldn’t necessarily assume it is a good idea. For a variety of reasons, projects can be initiated either when the concept still needs some more development or, in the worst case, it is misconceived and should not progress.

Experienced business analysts recognize the value in asking a few basic questions when they are asked to get involved in the early stage of a new project:

What is the business need?

How does this meet the business strategy?

Does the project have funding?


Image result for business need

What makes a good business need?

The business need should be simple to understand and should be one of:

  • generates additional revenue (or, at least infers an increase in revenue) – grow the customer base from 1.5 million to 2 million (Note: this gives an idea of the target but isn’t complete because it doesn’t explain how to meet the target)
  • reduces cost  – replace paper application forms with an online application process (Note: this explains how but omits any target – what will be the cost saving?)
  • meets regulation – comply with amendments to Consumer Credit Act for 2015


There are different ways of articulating the business need and it needs two elements – a target of some description (which is a cost reduction, revenue increase or regulatory) and an indication of how this will target will be met.

For cost and revenue targets, the how must be supplied to give some indication of direction. Without this, it will fall to the project to decide and this should be decided by the sponsor before the project starts proper.

For regulatory requirements, the how would usually be worked out as part of understanding and interpreting the regulation.


Image result for strategy

How does this meet the business strategy?

Is it clear how the project aligns with the strategy? So why does this matter if you have a sponsor and funding?

It matters because every organisation has limited resources – limited funds to invest but also, limited capacity to deliver new projects or change. Experienced business analysts will also recognize the need to ensure their organisation gets a good return on investment and, therefore, invests its limited resources on the biggest priorities.

The business strategy should be used to guide that prioritisation as there will be different ways for every organisation to achieve its overall goals and be successful.

Here are some ideas which different organisations might use to influence their strategy:

  • build brilliant customer relationships
  • create innovative, market-leading products
  • focus on national market
  • expand internationally

Ensuring that you can understand how the project goal is aligned with strategy is a way of checking that this should be a priority.


Does the project have funding?

This should be a given but it’s worth putting on the list just in case. If there is no funding secured even if it is just ‘seed’ funding to take you over the first month or two then your organisation isn’t really interested (yet).


Why else does this matter?

If the reasons that I’ve described aren’t sufficiently compelling, there are other reasons which will affect you as you proceed on your project:

  • Scope creep is very likely (without a clear business need, it is impossible to decide whether or how much any requirement contributes to delivering the business need)
  • It is impossible to prioritise requirements without a clear business need


Does this strike a chord with you? Do you disagree or do you think there are other things that should be considered?

If you have any questions or comments, just add them below.


Next week, I’ll explore why your project may not have met all these criteria and what you, as a professional business analyst, can do about it.

About Alex Papworth

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  1. […] more about identifying whether your project has identified the business need here and what to do if the business need has not been […]

  2. […] my last post, I explored things that are critical for success when starting on a new […]

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