What are Projects?
Most people at some point in their lives will be part of a project team or need to manage their own project. Yes really! You don’t need to work in IT or Computing or be on The Apprentice to find projects interesting or valuable. Anything from creating a piece of software or website, designing and building a new car model, to organising a wedding or renovating a house all share similar terminology and techniques.
Unfortunately Projects, as with a lot of terms used in IT, business and commerce are shrouded in mystery and confusion. Hopefully I can debunk some of this jargon.
Projects are the means to solve problems – or to respond to opportunities. A Project can be a useful way to achieve objectives and to manage time and energy for most human activities that start with the question ‘How do I …?’
Projects have a number of distinguishing features. Although not a comprehensive list, the following should apply to every Project:
- It is a one-off unique endeavour – so not a repeated activity like a factory production line or an operational process
- It is time-bound with definite start and end points
- It has a demonstrable outcome and achieves some stated needs, benefits or expectations
- Involves the active management of resources, such as people or money, according to some proposed schedule of activities
Projects normally involve more than one person working together in a non-trivial exercise, so not making a cup of tea or a completing a personal to-do list!
As each Project is unique it is only an abstract concept until it comes to life and you start planning and executing it, i.e. transforming the imagined and the aspirational into real tasks that produce measurable progress or results (sometimes called deliverables).
There is typically a project plan and a Project Manager, although in larger projects or Programmes of work functional groups can manage different parts of the whole, and a dedicated Programme or Project Office might provide administration services and the oversight of standard practices.
Most projects tend to contain similar activities and disciplines in any industry or technology, and often use a prescribed series of tasks and decision points and a re-usable framework (see Methodology). All Projects will attempt to manage the following:
Budget – the cost of people and other resources allocated to carry out the work or buy the necessary tools and materials.
Risks, Issues and Dependencies – any internal or external factors that might prevent the Project completing successfully, although ‘success’ can sometimes be a mutable and a subjective quality.
Time, in the sense of achieving targets and timescales, Project managers are not Time Lords!
Projects aren’t carried out in perfect laboratory conditions, they often involve unpredictable and challenging human factors, not least the need to motivate and organise teams of people, resolve conflicts of interest, and maintain discipline, structure & communication. Projects can run over a long period of time (years or even decades), and involve 1,000’s of individuals in different countries with a huge budget. This is why Projects are so important, and are normally a good thing, if they are done well. On the flip-side a poorly conceived and managed Project can prove a costly and embarrassing failure to all involved…now where did I put that tea pot 😉
Did you found this interesting and you want to read more, please go to the IT elementary school and choose another topic.
(c) 2015 Antony Lawrence CBA Ltd.