What is a Project?

Managers in IT and other industries have probably been asked this question hundreds of times: “What is a Project”?”. In response:

A project is a management environment that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products or services, according to a specified Business Case.

There are a variety of other valid definitions; however, this definition highlights some important points:

  • In order for a project to be created, a Business Case must exist. The Business Case may be developed in advance of the project, or it may be developed as part of project start-up;
  • A project is created to deliver something – one or more business products or services. Planning the project will involve defining exactly what should be done in order to deliver the products or services;
  • A project is a management environment that is created specifically for the project – it is not normal operational business;
  • Projects are temporary things, each with a defined start, middle and end. Projects do not happen, nor do they go on forever.

Projects or Not?

So how do we classify whether a particular activity or task(s) is a project or  not? Taking examples of projects below, products can be tangible objects such as a new school building or wedding reception, or could be a new capability such as the development of a new IT service or way of working.

Examples of projects: These are not projects:
organising a weddingre-organising a departmentan office move

developing a strategic plan

building a new swimming pool

× washing the car× paying employees× providing services to the elderly

× managing a contract with a local supplier

Why Manage Projects Differently?

Specific techniques and skills are required to manage a project and these are not all the same as those needed to manage a service.

A Project Manager needs to be able to create and manage a temporary team, and be focused on the delivery of specific outcomes within time, cost and quality constraints.

If a project is not managed effectively and does not have sufficient resources then its chances of success are limited.

At a strategic level, project management is about managing change and an organisation’s ability to manage change effectively is critical to its survival and future success.

Project Management vs Programme Management

What is Project Management?

Project management is not just something which the Project Manager does. It is a combination of:

  • the roles of individuals assigned to the project,
  • the organisational structure and
  • the processes that will deliver the required outcome.

It ensures that everyone involved knows what is expected of them and helps to keep cost, time and risk under control.

What is Programme Management?

Projects may be part of an overall programme of business change. A programme is a portfolio of projects and activities that are co-ordinated and managed as a unit in order to achieve outcomes and realise benefits. For example, an ICT Programme will contain a number of planned projects and/or activities to achieve a certain outcome or level of service. Where a project does not form part of a programme, it must still be designed to meet some stated business objectives.

Why Do Projects Fail?

The most common reason for a project to fail is the lack of internal resources dedicated to it at the outset.

  • A well run project needs sufficient staff time to ensure it is properly managed and so the work can be completed on time.
  • It is more cost effective to provide the right resources at the beginning rather than try to remedy a deficiency part way through a project.
  • The start-up or initiation phase of a project is where its success or failure is often decided.