Martin P Wilson

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Project GanttFor the sake of consistency, we need to understand what we mean by a project. Project managers who have been involved with projects for a while usually have a clear view. Although the definition of a project may seem obvious to experienced projects managers it is often not so clear to new project managers or managers with only business as usual or operational experience.

Projects are Limited Life, Standalone and Complete Pieces of Work

Many definitions of a project are written in rather worthy and pretentious terms. For all practical purposes a project has clear set of characteristics, projects:

  • are complete standalone pieces of work,
  • are temporary, resources and organisation are provided only for the duration of the project,
  • have clearly defined objectives with specific goals and outcomes. Often these in the form of business benefits that may be compared with an operational baseline taken before the project starts; or at least at a very early stage of the project.
  • do not have any continuing operational or business as usual existence. Once complete the project hands over the outcome of the project, building, organisation, computer system or whatever to business as usual management to operate.
  • often has a predefined timetable; it can either be predefined as part of the project scope or it may result from the planning as the time needed to deliver the agreed scope with the resources available.
  • operate within a set of constraints which usually include:
    • predetermined scope
    • budget and resources
    • timetable
    • quality measures
    • outcomes
    • benefits

A project may be a one-off or it may be part of a series of linked projects or programme of work to deliver strategic outcomes. In such cases, the allocation of resources and project organisation may not appear temporary. Good project discipline requires formal closure of a project when it has delivered its objectives (or abandoned for whatever reason); then a new project properly initiated with its own clear scope and constraints.

Within a project there may individual functional or specialist workstreams. These may appear to be projects in their own right. However, it will usually not meet the test of being complete standalone pieces of work that deliver benefits to the body commissioning the work. For example, these might be the testing function on a software project or planning control on a building project.

Here at Solidus when we refer to a project we will base our discussion on this model for a project. In real life, many clients and project owners blur the distinction between workstream, project, programme and portfolio. It is the responsibility of the project manager initiating the project to make sure the boundaries and constraints of the work are clelarly defined to his or her satisfaction. It is against that Project Initiation Document (PID) the project manager will be judged.

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