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.