What Is a Project?

A project consists of four attributes: 

  1. A vision for a specific and limited change in the world
  2. Committing resources to make the change happen
  3. Doing the work that it takes to make the change a reality
  4. An end-point for the project to be completed.

Let’s break down each attribute of a project down a little bit more. 

A Vision For a Specific Change

A vision statement for an organization describes the perfect future. Likewise, a project starts with a description of a different future. But when you begin a project, you must have a very specific end result in mind. This means that you must limit your project vision to only the change you can make or are committing to make. 

You will know that your vision for a specific change is specific and limited enough when you can clearly define what will be measured to describe the change. A vision for an organization may not be measurable (e.g. eliminate world hunger.) A vision for a project must be measurable (e.g. configure the warehouse to ship 20,000kg of food a day to this specific country.) 

Committing Resources

You will never make a change in the world unless you commit real resources. Resource allocation is where many organizations run into trouble. A specific project may be defined, but unless you assign the resources to make this happen, it never will. 

If you want to get additional education in your personal life, you must set aside time and money to get an education. Similarly, if you’re going to increase your business capabilities, you must say “yes” and “no” to the right work within your organization. 

Do The Work

After you commit resources, you must do the work that needs to be done. Doing the work means producing results at the right time and achieving the right level of excellence to each work package. When you are doing the work, you must control what gets done, the resources that go into it, and its quality. 

Once again, knowing what you will measure to indicate a successful project will focus your effort into the right place. 

An End-Point

Your project must have a clear end-point. Your end-point should be both a clear completion date and a measurable change that can be objectively observed. Your temptation will be to work past your end-date, but if you allow your schedule to slide, your original value calculations for the change you are making won’t hold true anymore. 

Your Projects

Do your projects have these four attributes? Are you doing work that doesn’t have a measurable outcome? Are you hoping that work will be completed even though you haven’t assigned adequate resources? Projects are the best way to make a change in the world. Make sure that you are intentionally planning and completing the work that will make the impact you intend.

Why Project Management?

Why do companies and people do this activity called ‘project management’? 

When you set out to finish a project as a company, department, or employee, you have every intention of completing the work. You also expect that the work will be used. And most fulfilling, you expect that the work that you do will benefit the world (sometimes through your department or company.) 

Work would not be very inspiring if you started out by saying: “This is the project that I have been assigned, but:

  • I’ll probably only do about half of what I promised I would
  • No-one will ever use it what I produce
  • and it will have absolutely no positive impact on the world.”

And yet, many projects that people start finishes with the work only partially done, and the benefit is far less than possible.

The reason that you need to spend time intentionally managing your project is to ensure you make an impact. Managing the project ensures that the work gets done, the end-user (or customer) can use what is created, and that the right benefits are realized when the project is complete. 

You spend time managing your finances by balancing your bank statements and planning for a vacation. You manage your career by taking courses and improving your skills. You manage your home-renovation work so that it gets done, and you don’t run out of money. Managing at-work projects should be granted the same extra attention to managing the work and results. 

Companies and people do project management so that they can deliver what they say they will deliver. 

Change Something

What is the purpose of embarking on a project? The goal of every project is to change something! If your result from finishing a project isn’t that something in the world has changed, then you haven’t been successful. If nothing has changed, then why spend effort and resources on the project?

Done On Time – Define Where You Are Going

When you start your project, make sure that you know where you are going. Every project should begin with a vision document. The vision document tells you what will change in the world, and when it will change by. When you have a clear picture of what needs to change you have something to work towards. When you know when it needs to be done, you suddenly have action steps.

Think about this example:

Project 1: I want to design a new product that will replace my current business flagship product.

Project 2: By May 15, 2019, subject matter specialists who manage projects will have a tool for recording their project vision, statistics, and progress online.

The second project is a project that will be done. You will know when you will be done on time, and you have a vision for what the outcome will look like. With the time constraint, you know exactly what steps you have to take. It might be to hire software developers, and it might be complete the design of the online tool. The first project will likely never get done. You don’t know what the new product will look like and there is no urgency in completing the work. Without the deadline, you don’t know when you have to be done by. Everything that seems urgent will take priority over the project.

What If I Choose The Wrong Vision?

In a world of nearly infinite choice, we often find ourselves paralyzed because we don’t want to choose the wrong thing mistakenly. A beautiful side effect of being Done On Time is that you aren’t wrong when you complete a project.

When you define a project vision, and a date to have it done by, you are describing the way that you want to change the world, and when it will happen. You may get to the end of the project and discover that it wasn’t quite the way that you wanted to change the world, but there will be something different about the world today than it was when you started. This means that you have a few options:

  1. Create another project that builds on your current one to correct your course so that you end up closer to where you wanted to be.
  2. Recognize that the project you just finished is a good learning experience. Kind of like trying a new restaurant that you may end up liking or not.
  3. Use this as a catalyst to examine what you can do better when defining your project vision.

Your purpose for running a project is to make a change in the world. Your work has an impact. Your project means that something will be different. Thank you for making sure that we continue to move forward.

Is It A Project?

What is a project? And why does it matter? Having a clear understanding of the definition of a project is important because you handle projects and everyday tasks differently.

To figure out if a chunk of work is a project ask yourself the following questions?

  1. When I am done, is the result something new that we haven’t produced before? (Put another way have I done this before?)
  2. Do I have a set time when the work is supposed to end?
  3. Does the result of what I am doing add new value?

If you can answer yes to both of these questions, you have yourself a project.

The Project Management Institute (who incidentally know a thing or two about projects) define projects as, “a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.” If you are starting work, and there is no end-date, it isn’t a project. And if it isn’t producing something new and unique, it also isn’t a project.

Let’s think of an example. If you are a mechanic for a large fleet of trucks and are going to change the oil on a truck, it isn’t a project because it doesn’t end up with a unique result. In fact, in the end, the truck runs, but now it just has clean oil. Changing oil is actually a process. I’ll write about processes in a blog post soon.

Sometimes it is difficult to determine the difference between a project and a process. If you are preparing year-end tax receipts, you might treat it as a project with clear steps that you to take, and you might think that it has a new result, but it doesn’t. Generating tax receipts has the same results as last year, just with different numbers. It’s like doing a cheque-run – this isn’t a project. Rather writing cheques is a process that you do every week. Similarly, generating tax receipts is a process, not a project.

Setting up a site for a blog is a project (new value to the business, unique result, deadline.) Writing a post every day is a process.

Why does it matter whether something is a process or a project?
It matters because of the third question. “Does the result of what I am doing add new value?” Projects are the chunks of work that will move you, or your organization, forward. A process gives value, but usually it is status quo value. Projects create new value that is a significant step forward from where you currently are. When something is a project, you aren’t going to take the exact work and re-use it and tweak it. (Though you might learn many lessons from it.) It is a one-time shot at increasing value. So treat it like the one-time adventure it is.