What are a projects characteristics

A project has several characteristics that set it apart from an organisation's "business as usual". Business as usual can be characterised as:

e requiring activities to be carried out repeatedly and/or regularly;

e employing resources of similar skill-sets;

e being constrained by annual, cycle-driven deadlines or budgets.

An organisation's typical business-as-usual activities may include:

e delivering its products and/or services to its customers;

e maintaining its financial affairs;

e managing its people;

e keeping its systems and processes running from day to day.

Business as usual is what departments do to maintain the performance of the organisation. If it can be established that a project differs from this, it can be shown why projects need and deserve a tailored form of management. There are several things that differentiate a project from business as usual:

e A project produces a "defined deliverable". A project is a vehicle for delivering change. It provides the governance by which an organisation can move from one steady-state to another, from A to B. One result of a project is a "defined deliverable", something which, by its use, enables the new steady-state to operate effectively. So this deliverable must be of sufficient quality to serve the purpose demanded of it.

e A project has a defined end date. There are many examples of projects whose deadlines are revised time and time again. For example, the European Fighter Jet has had several delivery dates set and missed. This may be because the defined deliverable was not defined as well as it should have been. A project should have a target end date otherwise it will lose focus, probably go over budget and delay the business from benefiting from its investment. Furthermore, since a project is temporary, any delay in its completion means that those working on it cannot be released for other tasks.

e A project has a defined budget. This will extend for the life of the project, in contrast to a departmental budget, which will cover the financial year.

e A project uses a wide range of resources. A project will need to benefit from the capabilities, knowledge, skills and experience of people from a wide range of backgrounds from within and, possibly, outside the organisation. However, a business-as-usual department is, almost by definition, characterised by a narrower range of knowledge and skills. e People will be involved in peaks and troughs during the project. Whereas a department is likely to have roughly the same number of people working in it throughout the financial year, a project will use a variety of people at different times in its life. For instance, the people specifying what the project must achieve will probably be most heavily involved at the beginning and at the end, whereas those developing the end product may be most involved during the middle phase. e A project has a life cycle. Philip Larkin, a 20th-century English poet, once described the structure of a novel as having "a beginning, a muddle and an end", and many projects feel as though they are in a constant muddle. A project needs attention every day to reduce the risk of disorder and confusion, but it also needs direction from senior managers to ensure that it starts and stops according to plan. So the beginning is intended to create governance suitable for the project's management, and the end is to make sure that the project has an outcome that meets expectations.

Business as usual may share some of the hallmarks of a project. For instance, every month management reports will be produced to assist the company's decision-making. These reports are defined deliverables, but their creation is a repeatable, low-risk activity that does no more than maintain the steady-state of business. Similarly, business as usual requires a defined budget. However, it is usually calculated in order to maintain or improve performance during the coming year.

A project is intended to deliver a step change. Such changes may transform processes, performance or culture. In seeking to improve something, a project is moving firmly into a territory where expectations are less easy to predict or manage. It must produce something that, perhaps, has not been produced before, at least not in the same circumstances. There will be expectations about when the project will be completed, how much it will cost and what it will deliver. Articulating a clear and commonly held understanding of these variables is what makes each project both unique and risky.

Risk is a feature of projects. That so many fail is often because the risk of failure has been managed inadequately. Common reasons for failure include:

e inadequacy of the plan;

e absence of a plan;

e poor monitoring or control;

e unmanaged change;

e inadequate communication;

e constrained budgetary provision;

e poor management of expectations.

If uncorrected, such failures will lead to any one or combination of the following:

e missed deadlines; e exceeded budgets; e substandard quality.

Time, cost and quality are the three criteria by which failure is most commonly measured. But what about success? Can a project be judged a success if it delivers:

e on time; e to budget; e to specification?

These may be measures of successful project management, but they are not adequate measures of a successful project. A project may result in a fit-for-purpose outcome, on time and on budget, and may have excited those who were involved, but did it make a positive difference? If it failed in this respect, what was the point of the investment? A successful project is best characterised by the change it delivers.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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