Key Actions by:

Standard 6: Early transition and start-up planning (including pre-award).

Transition from the design/proposal team to the project start-up team and plan and conduct early start-up activities.

Develop CRS and partner-level plans and budgets for early start-up activities.

  • Why

    Start-up planning for new projects is often weak, incomplete, or starts too late to be effective. This is due in part to the fact that most proposals do not give enough detail on early start-up activities to guide an effective project start-up process. Developing an early start-up plan:

    • Helps the project team identify key issues that may affect timely start-up, and develop plans to address them.
    • Establishes clarity on start-up timelines, roles, and responsibilities.
    • Helps appropriately sequence the activities critical to a quick project start-up. 
  • How

    Follow these steps, telescoping as needed, to develop a strong early start-up plan:

    Prepare for Early Start-up

    1. The PM/CoP (or acting PM/CoP) familiarizes him or herself with the Early Start-up Plan and Budget Template. The early start-up planning team adapts and uses this template to develop a comprehensive plan for pre- and post-award/approval start-up. This plan will guide project activities through the development of the project detailed implementation plan (DIP).
    2. The PM/CoP consults with the CR to confirm the resources available for CRS-level early start-up activities. This is an important preparatory step if it seems likely that CRS private funding may be needed for early start-up (including funding to cover staff time during development of the early start-up plan – see Standard 4, key action 2).

    Pre-award start-up: For externally-funded projects, the proposal cost application may include funding for certain start-up activities. Analyze the potential benefit of moving some of these activities forward to the pre-award stage and using CRS funds, if needed. If CRS and the donor are at a point in the approval process where this would be possible, request a pre-award letter (PAL) from the donor to fund pre-award start-up costs. Per the CRS Agreements Policy, secure the Regional Director’s written approval of any PAL, both from the donor to CRS, or from CRS to a partner (see step 3).   

    1. With support from the SMT and any country program partnership staff, the PM/CoP determines how best to engage partners in the early start-up planning process. The PM/CoP also confirms who will take the lead in reaching out to partners (see “Partnership”, below).
    • If needed, the PM/CoP consults with the CR to confirm the resources available for partner-level early start-up activities.

    Develop the early start-up plan and budget

    1. The PM/CoP convenes a meeting of the early start-up planning team to develop the early start-up plan and budget. Good practices for this meeting include:
    • Reviewing the proposal and reflecting on CRS’ commitments for both programming activities and operations issues (e.g., staffing, offices, ICT, logistics, partnerships, government approvals, special procurements/imports, etc.)
    • Identifying the issues the team anticipates will present the greatest challenges for timely project start-up, mindful of the commitments identified above
    • Using these issues to guide identification of early start-up activities. For example, if the project includes a technical programming area where the team has less expertise, early start-up activities may include hiring a consultant or bringing in a CRS technical expert to work with the project team, conduct assessments, further refine the technical approach, etc.  

    Early planning of supply chain management activities: Delays in procurement and other aspects of supply chain management start-up can trigger a chain of delays in overall project start-up. As part of early start-up planning, the PM/CoP must work closely with supply chain management staff to initiate supply chain management planning as soon as possible. This includes providing the information procurement staff need to create an initial project Procurement Plan, and submitting purchase requisitions with sufficient lead time.The PM/CoP may also need to work with other operations staff (e.g., the fleet manager) to develop a transportation schedule that provides for the arrival of project equipment and supplies at time and location needed to initiate project activities on schedule. For projects with distribution activities, the PM, with support from supply chain management staff, also develops a project Distribution Plan as soon as possible during early start-up. Include a distribution planning joint design workshop in the schedule of early start-up meetings, to ensure this important workshop for CRS and partner program and supply chain management staff to plan for the execution of the distribution plan, takes place in a timely manner.

    1. If developing partner-level plans in a separate process, the PM/CoP works closely with partners to develop their own early start-up plans, with support from other CRS staff as needed.

    TIP: When developing the early start-up plan, review the Project Start-up Key Meetings and Events timeline and table. Think through how to sequence these start-up meetings and events, and assess whether a larger start-up event or sequential workshops are most appropriate. Set dates for these meetings, ensure staff and partners “save the date(s)”, and clearly define who needs to do what to prepare for these events.

    Review and update the early start-up plan

    1. Once CRS receives formal notification of project approval, the PM/CoP leads the team in revisiting the early start-up plan and any related plans (e.g., preliminary procurement plans). The PM/CoP includes additional activities as needed, based on the final terms of the donor agreement (for externally funded projects).
    2. For externally funded projects: If the early start-up planning process highlights gaps or deficiencies in project design and/or budgeting, the PM/CoP discusses with country program senior management and donor engagement staff, as appropriate, if/how to raise these issues with the donor. Such situations are more common with rapid-onset emergency projects, or other projects with a very short design period. (See also Standard 7, key action 1, on project validation.)
    3. If the PM/CoP was not in place at the time of early start-up plan development, the proposal transition manager or other acting PM/CoP shares the early start-up plan when the PM/CoP joins the project team (see Standard 6, key action 3 for information on handover to the PM/CoP).
    4. From early start-up plan development until the DIP workshop, the PM/CoP regularly reviews the plan with the start-up/implementation team and continues to advance early start-up efforts. During DIP development, the team incorporates any outstanding activities from the early start-up plan into the project DIP. 
    5. As the project start-up phase comes to an end (e.g. after developing the project DIP), organize an after-action review of the start-up process, using the Project Management Cycle After-Action Review Guidance available under the "Other Resources" section. Use the early start-up plan as a reference document.
  • Partnership
    • Before engaging partners in early start-up planning, update partner leadership regarding the status of the proposal.
    • Confirm that CRS and the partner have a common understanding about the scope of, and funding for, early start-up, including what resources, if any, CRS can provide to support early start-up. This will ensure realistic expectations when developing detailed early start-up plans and budgets.
    • Determine the best method for developing the early start-up plan based on each partner’s role in the project; CRS’ relationship with the partner organization; partner capacity; and proposal status (e.g., pending; issues letter stage; or formally approved).
    • Whatever the method for developing partner-level early start-up plans, a priority is to organize discussions with partner senior management around project start-up staffing and recruitment of new staff. Delays in recruitment produce ripple effects throughout the project and can significantly slow start-up. See Standard 9 for guidance about start-up staffing and recruitment.
    • The CR or a senior partnership staff, rather than the PM/CoP, may lead early start-up discussions with partners. This may be particularly appropriate in the case of new partner relationships and/or situations such as emergency projects where the timeliness of early start-up planning is critical.
  • When CRS is a sub-recipient
    • Follow the same process when CRS is a sub-recipient, but keep in mind that CRS may need to wait for information and guidance from the prime regarding proposal status. Also, consider the likelihood of winning before investing resources in developing the early start-up plan.
    • Pay close attention to resource requirements for any CRS-level early start-up planning activities, and discuss with the prime if pre-award spending authorization is needed.
  • Emergency projects

    General guidance

    Resources to support early start-up in emergencies

    • Emergency donors will often provide a PAL and/or back-date the start date of a project, upon request, to allow early start-up costs to be charged to the project before the official agreement has been finalized. Pre-award spending may incur risks to CRS. Be sure to request a budget threshold from the regional director for this start-up period. Emergency funding via the Humanitarian Response Department (HRD) may also be available for start-up activities.
    • Keep in mind that for emergency projects, CRS has additional resources and processes to help fast-track project start-up. The early start-up plan should therefore include submitting requests for release of pre-positioned supplies as appropriate and submitting waivers for streamlining CRS operational systems as needed. The Emergency Local Purchase Waiver Request Template can be used to expedite purchases.  

    Programming and operations considerations

    • If the emergency response focuses heavily on distribution of relief items, set-up of warehousing and transport systems will be a priority in early start-up. Alternatively, if projects will focus on market-based (cash/voucher) activities, conducting market studies and making arrangements with financial institutions (e.g., banks, mobile-money providers, etc.) will be a priority.
    • In addition to the overall early start-up plan, make sure to engage operations staff in developing procurement and distributions plans as needed.
    • During the early start-up period, it is also critical to share information regarding the approval of the project, along with its scope/scale, with other stakeholders (NGOs, UN, government authorities) to support a well-coordinated and effective emergency response. Include these coordination activities in the early start-up plan and designate staff responsible.