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.