To project or not to project? That is the question

How many times do you hear the word “project” without really stopping to think about what it means and whether it is something you want to invest time in?  Here’s 3 brief thoughts about just when, exactly, is a piece of work a project?

When is a piece of work a “project”?

Picture the scene: your CFO decides that a new reporting system is required and wants to take advantage of all the latest Business Intelligence software that he had demonstrated at a recent conference.  You haven’t updated any of your software for over 5 years and you know the version of your finance software is no longer supported.

You need a team of experts to come in and help you do this, and you’re in the middle of budgeting and year end is coming up and……and……

This is the archetypal project: a defined piece of work which is out of the ordinary and which, in order to be successful, requires skills that your team just does not have.

Now picture a different scene: you’re the MD of a small company which has designs on growing profit – maybe through acquisition, or through the launch of a new product, or perhaps by changing your processes.  You don’t need a specialist team because you have that already, but you do need help with working out what should happen in what order, and what happens if you don’t do a certain thing in a certain timeframe.  You know you need a big list but you’re not sure where to start.

This is also a project – the skills and the knowledge are there but the critical planning is not – either because you’re unsure or because you just don’t have the time.

When should the word “project” be used?

To me a project can loosely be termed as any piece (or pieces) of work which need to come together to deliver something at a defined moment in time.

In fact, the word “project” means two different things – as a noun it refers to a piece of work which exists to achieve a particular aim, whilst as a verb it refers to an estimate or forecast based on current trends.  The latter is better represented by a project plan.

A project manager will define a plan based on your requirements and will then discuss that plan with you.  Your input is of critical importance as you are the person who will be committing the time, effort and money to delivering the plan: the project manager’s purpose is to be accountable for the delivery but not to have responsibility for freeing up your resources (time, money, effort).  You must completely trust your project manager in order to be successful.

A project sounds like a large investment – and I can’t afford that

There is no need for a project to cost thousands of pounds just because it’s a defined piece of work.  What is important is that you work out the reason for your project in the first place, together with the benefit of the outcome, and then decide how much you would be willing to pay for that piece of work to be managed and delivered for you.

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