What makes a project a project? How is it different from just work? Can all work be a ‘project’? (The answer is ‘no.) Are all projects work? (Every project manager will confirm that the answer is definitely ‘yes’).
The short definition of a project is, “A sequence of tasks with a beginning and an end restricted by time, resources, and desired results.” The Project Management Institute (PMI) site states that,
“A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources. And a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a particular set of activities designed to accomplish a singular goal. So a project team often includes people who don’t usually work together – sometimes from different organizations and across multiple geographies.”
As a guideline, projects differ from work in the following six ways.
1. Projects have a defined beginning and end.
Getting from the beginning to the end of a project usually, involves a definable sequence of steps or activities. Moreover, the best way to organize those actions that make up a project are tasks in a work breakdown structure that become the detail from which the project schedule is created and managed through your chosen project management software tool.
2. Projects have a defined and planned outcome.
Every project produces a unique result of some sort used by a company, division, business unit, group of individuals or outside customer. These project outcomes or results usually also have specific goals of quality and performance. A basic rule of thumb is this…when a project gets done, something new like a product, process, or functionality exists that was not there before.
3. Projects follow a plan.
Projects follow a planned, organized approach to meet their objectives. As mentioned above, create a schedule and budget for this temporary work with a definite goal in place to meet the schedule and budget. Also, when it is over, it is over.
4. Projects use resources that have been directly assigned to get the work done.
Projects use resources, (people, time, money), explicitly allocated to the work of the project, as opposed to the ongoing operations of the business. These project resources and how much they cost against the project and their usage must be managed on an ongoing basis to ensure that the project work is completed within the specified timeframe and budget as opposed to the current operations of the business.
5. Projects involve a team.
A project usually involves a group of people to get it done. Rarely is a project a one-person operation. It requires a team driven to accomplish the same goal. So it is often a temporary group of individuals brought together to successfully roll-out an end solution, product or service. Once the project is complete, the team disbands and moves on to other work.
6. Projects have stakeholders.
Projects always have different stakeholders – this includes the project team, the customers, the project manager, the corporate executives, and other people who have an interest in the project. Stakeholders bring differing expectations about results to the project; making a project manager’s job more demanding. Manage these expectations for the completed project to be considered a success.
Not all work is a project, but all projects are work. The key is that a project is a temporary teaming of individuals to plan, configure and create something that didn’t exist before that meets a need expressed by a project ‘customer’ or ‘client.’ How the team performs: on time, on budget delivery and overall performance during the delivery all, contribute (or takes away from), the success of the project.
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