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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Chapter 3: Understanding Projects

Well, we have taken the first baby step towards getting our PMP Certification. In the previous chapter, we learnt what a Project is and many other important terms that are essential for us to know in our quest of the elusive PMP title.

In this chapter, we are going to get a better understanding of what a project is and what a project lifecycle is.

So, lets get started!!!

What makes Projects Different?

You might have been wondering, what makes projects different. From the previous chapter, we learnt that the project is a temporary endeavor to accomplish a defined task. You might ask me, any organization might have so many activities that are executed on a daily basis. What makes projects different?

The activities taken up by any organization fall into two distinct categories:
1. Projects &
2. Operations

An Operation is an ongoing and repetitive set of tasks like cleaning the washrooms daily, or maintenance of the power back up in the building once every month etc. It has no end (unless the company goes bust) whereas; a Project has a lifecycle, a beginning and a definite end.

Understanding a Project

A project is a work effort made over a finite period of time with a start and a finish to create a unique product or service or result. Because a project has a start and a finish, it is also called a temporary effort or endeavor. In other words, a project is a temporary endeavor taken to create a unique product, service or result. So, a project has two defining characteristics: It is temporary, and it creates a unique result.

Let’s try to understand these two defining concepts: temporary and unique.

Temporary - The temporary nature of projects refers to the fact that each project has a definite beginning and a definite end. A project can reach its end in one of two possible ways:
• The project has met its objectives—that is, the planned unique product has been created or the results achieved.
• The project has been terminated before its successful completion for whatever reason.
The temporary nature of projects can also apply to two other aspects:
• The opportunity to market the product that the project will produce is temporary—that is, the product needs to be produced in a limited timeframe; otherwise, it will be too late.
• A project team is temporary—that is, the project team is disbanded after the project ends, and the team members may be assigned to other projects eventually.
However, remember that the temporary nature of a project does not refer to the product it creates. The results or outcomes of a project are usually long lasting. Go back to the building your home example. Even though the construction process ends after say 9 months, your house is going to stand forever (Unless you plan on renovating or rebuilding it from scratch, which by themselves will be separate projects)

The second defining characteristic of a project is that it must create a unique product.

Unique product - The outcome of a project must be a unique product, service, or result.
How do these 3 terms differ from one another?
• Product - This is a tangible, quantifiable artifact that is either the end item or a component of outcome. The LCD TV in your living room or the fast BMW Car you drive or the nice diamond pendant you got your wife on her birthday are some examples of products.
• Service - Actually, when we say a project can create a service, we really mean the capability to perform a service. For example, a project that creates a website for a bank to offer online banking has created the capability for the bank to offer the online banking to its customers.
• Result. This is usually the knowledge related outcome of a project—for example, the results of an analysis performed in a research project.

We might use these 3 terms product or service or result interchangeably during the course of our study and remember that, though they might be 3 different things, from a project perspective, they all signify one thing – the project is completed successfully.

In the previous paragraph, we had seen the fact that projects are different from operations and we even saw a simple example. In order to manage projects efficiently you must first be able to identify if an activity is a Project or an Operation. To do that, you must be able to distinguish the two clearly.

Distinguishing a Project from an Operation

An organization executes a wide variety of activities as part of its work to achieve its business objectives. Some of these activities are to support projects and others are to support what are called operations. An operation is a set of tasks that does not qualify to be a project. In other words, an operation is a function that performs ongoing tasks: It does not produce a unique product and nor does it have a beginning or an end or both.

For example, Building your house is a project, whereas maintaining/cleaning it regularly is an operation.

It is important to understand that projects and operations share some characteristics, such as the following:
• Both require resources, including human resources (people).
• Both are constrained to limited, as opposed to unlimited, resources.
• Both are managed—that is, planned, executed, and controlled.
• Both have objectives.

The distinctions between projects and operations can be made by sticking to the definition of a project—that it is temporary and unique. Operations are generally ongoing and repetitive. Although both projects and operations have objectives, a project ends when its objectives are met, whereas an operation continues toward attaining a new set of objectives when the current set of objectives has been attained.

Go back to our example, building your house is a one time activity (Project) whereas, cleaning the house once every week to keep dirt and rodents away is a recurring activity (Operation) that has to be done every week, unless you intend on sharing your residence with rats and cockroaches!!!

Some Example Projects:

Projects can be performed at various levels of an organization; they vary in size, and accordingly can involve just one person or a team. Some examples are:

Project Project Outcome
Constructing Your House Product
Running an election campaign Results: win or lose; Products: documents
Developing a website to offer online banking Service
Setting up a new Office Service
Moving your office to a new building Result: office is moved
Study the genetic makeup of a new species of birds in a forest Results (of the research); Product: research paper
How do projects come into existence? In other words, how do you come up with a project? Sure, you have an idea, a concept of some final product, but how exactly do you write it down and declare it as a project? A project is born and brought up through a procedure called progressive elaboration. This is what we are going to learn in the next chapter!!!

Previous: Introduction to Projects

Next: What is Progressive Elaboration

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