Pre-Project Planning (Best Practice)

RT-039 Topic Summary
RT 039


This research indicates a direct relationship exists between the level of pre-project planning effort and project success. 

Pre-project planning is defined as the process of developing sufficient strategic information with which owners can address risk and decide to commit resources to maximize the chances for a successful project. The process begins when a validated project concept has been identified during the business planning process and ends when a decision has been made whether or not to authorize funding for the execution of the project. 

Three conclusions were drawn from this research effort:

  • Pre-project planning is an owner-driven process that must be tied closely to business goals.
  • Pre-project planning is a complex process that must be adapted to the business needs of the company, tailored to specific projects, and applied consistently to all projects in order to gain full benefits.
  • Corporate goals and guidelines for both pre-project planning and the project must be well-defined and aligned among project participants. Alignment requires involvement of operations, business, and project management early in the pre-project planning process.

Key Findings and Implementation Tools

1 : Early Stages in Project Life Cycle Influence Outcome

The early stages in the project life cycle, such as business planning and pre-project planning, can have a much greater influence on the project’s outcome than later stages. The “Cost-Influence Curve” shown below illustrates that it is much easier to influence a project’s outcome during the project planning stage when expenditures are relatively minimal than it is to affect the outcome during project execution or operation of the facility when expenditures are more significant. (RS39-1, p. 1)
Reference: (RS39-1)

2 : Project Life Cycle Diagram

This model breaks the project life cycle into four distinct stages: business planning, pre-project planning, execute project, and operate facility. The project planning phase includes the first two stages with a focus on stage 2 with these four steps:

  • Organize for pre-project planning
  • Select project alternatives
  • Develop a project definition package
  • Decide whether to proceed with project

The tasks are represented by the functional boxes in the pre-project planning model that is explained in the research. (SD-94, p.1)

Reference: (SD-94)

3 : Pre-Project Planning Principles

The research identified six fundamental principles that are important to pre-project planning. First is that pre-project planning is a process that can be standardized and the concepts presented can be adapted to the specific needs of individual organizations. The other five principles are detailed in the research. (RS39-1, p. 21)
Reference: (RS39-1)

4 : Project Predictability

Pre-project planning improves project predictability in terms of cost, schedule, and operating performance. (RS39-1, p.22)

  • Improved cost predictability
  • Improved schedule predictability
  • Better attainment of operational and production goals in the first six months of operation
  • Better achievement of business goals
  • Better definition of risks
  • Fewer scope changes
  • Greatly reduced probability of project failures and disasters
Reference: (RS39-1)

5 : Environmental & Sustainability

Pre-project planning increases the chances of the project meeting environmental and social goals. (RS39-1, p. v)
Reference: (RS39-1)

6 : Implementation Tool #1

SP39-2, Pre-Project Planning Handbook (Archived)

The purpose of this handbook is to define the functions involved in pre-project planning and to provide an outline that can be used to develop specific steps and tools for the pre-project planning of capital projects. The Project Life Cycle Diagram divides pre-project planning into 4 stages which is a very good primer in understanding the pre-project planning process.
Reference: (SP39-2)

Key Performance Indicators

Improved cost, Improved schedule, Improved quality (reduced errors & omissions), Improved operations & maintainability, Improved design

Research Publications

Pre-Project Planning Handbook - SP39-2

Publication Date: 04/1995 Type: Special Publication Pages: 132 Status: Archived Tool

Pre-Project Planning: Beginning a Project the Right Way - RS39-1

Publication Date: 12/1994 Type: Research Summary Pages: 26 Status: Supporting Product

Analysis of Pre-Project Planning Effort and Success Variables for Capital Facility Projects - SD-105

Publication Date: 11/1994 Type: Source Document Pages: 239 Status: Reference

Perceptions of Representatives Concerning Project Success and Pre-Project Planning Effort - SD-102

Publication Date: 09/1994 Type: Source Document Pages: 174 Status: Reference

Modeling Pre-Project Planning for the Construction of Capital Facilities - SD-94

Publication Date: 07/1993 Type: Source Document Pages: 130 Status: Reference