March 27, 2012 | Author: PM Hut | Filed under: Project Management Definitions
What Is a Project?
By Glen D. Ford
One of the joys of English is that terms are often used incorrectly in the popular version of the language. We toss around terms that we really don’t understand. We use them when they really don’t apply. We use them in place of more appropriate words. And we misuse other words in their place. We’re definitely followers of Humpty Dumpty in that regard.
Such a word is “project”.
We use the word to describe major endeavors such as the building of a bridge or an office building. We use it to describe man’s race to the moon. And we also use it to describe a service call for your furnace.
But what is a project really?
The Project Management Institute defines a project as “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result”. If we examine the definition closer, we’ll find two major characteristics that distinguish it from other business endeavors:
- It is temporary
- It is unique
Like most business activities it produces a product, service or result. However, most business endeavors or activities are on-going. In fact, most businesses rely on the on-going nature of a majority of their activities. Projects are different. They have a specific beginning and a pre-defined end. Most business activities are also focused on repetition. That is they produce the same product over and over again. A project however, produces a unique product. What it creates is different in some way, from any produced previously. It is in this definition of uniqueness, that projects take a left turn.
The standard definition helps to separate the majority of projects from the majority of ongoing operations. However, to understand the border between project and operation we must go lower and discuss the types of projects.
The first type of project is the strategic project. So what is a strategic project? These projects are defined by their reason. They exist in order to move the company from one state to another. Often they are steps in a global intent. For example, you might want to prepare for a new market. To do that you may need to implement new software, a new manufacturing facility and a new distribution channel. Each of these might be set up as independent projects. Typically, these projects will cut across the silos a business builds up in its normal day-to-day operations.
The second type of project is the operational project. These projects are intended to support on-going operations. Typically, they are focused on upgrading, repairing or otherwise extending the life of existing business assets.
The third type is in fact, a sub-set of the operational project. These are the repeating or operationalized projects. Typically these are very small projects which a managed in a group. Normally they follow a standardized process. In fact, the only reason they would be considered projects at all are that they produce a product with some unique characteristic. These are the projects which are most like to be the subject of debate. After all, what constitutes unique is often a matter of debate.
Glen Ford is an accomplished project management consultant, trainer and writer. He has over 20 years experience as a project manager in such diverse projects as Construction, IT, Software Development, Marketing and Business Startup. He is a serial entrepreneur who quite literally learned to be an entrepreneur at his great-grandfather’s knee.
Check out his newest book available on Amazon at http://vproz.ca/books/how-to-document-a-project-plan. You can read more from Glen on his blog.
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