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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What is a Project?

Before getting into details of how you would manage an Agile Project, its essential that we first understand what a Project is… 

In my previous series on PMP Certification I had published a couple of articles about Projects. They are very much relevant to the ACP Certification also so, it would be good if you could refer them and learn more about Projects. 

  1. Introduction to Projects 
  2. Understanding Projects  

Official definition of a project 

According to PMI, A project is defined as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.

Temporary Endeavor? 

PMIs definition of Temporary does not mean that the duration is very small. According to PMI every project must have a specific Start Date and an End Date. Anything that comes to an end is Temporary, would we be right to say that? PMI does not specify exactly when this End Dates needs to be. As long as we have one, we are fine. In fact, I have seen projects that run for years before it reaches its End Date. 

Projects are usually started to achieve a strategic or business objective and these objectives change over time. So, it is not practically possible for a project to go-on forever because business direction or objectives keep changing from time to time. For ex: Film Cameras were the hip thing to have when I was in college. Lets assume I started a project to manufacture those film rolls for 25 years and sell them, do you think I would need the project still? Film Cameras as antiques now with barely anyone using them. Everyone has moved onto Digital cameras. 
Get the picture? 

Unique Product, Service or Result? 

By the definition above, a project involves work that has not been attempted before and is therefore unique. However, unique does not mean that a project is completely so. We may use reusable components of past projects or existing systems to simplify our efforts. 

Suppose we develop a inventory management software that requires coding for 10 components. This requirement does not mean that we need to write the code (develop) for all 10 components of the software. We can reuse existing components from our previous projects, and write the remaining components afresh. But, as you may note, the resultant combination would still be unique.

Though we are reusing some old components, there are still many new components that we need to build in order to create the new Inventory Management software – right? At the beginning of the project, we would have the uncertainty about whether we can actually build those new components and also about whether these new components would work fine with the old ones. So, we are faced with an uncertainty about whether the Inventory Managemnet System will be fully functional at the end of the project – right? 

The Project Manager manages this Uncertainty. If we are able to anticipate the uncertainty to an event, we have a better chance of handling or managing it better. 


The outcome of a project may be:
1. A product 

2. A capability to perform a service 
3. A result, such as an outcome or a document 

Most projects, especially those that involve building Products, all the requirements aren’t known at the start. The project features or characteristics get defined over a period of time. PMI uses the term Progressive Elaboration very often where we start small and slowly build and move forward to create valuable results. 

Progressive elaboration refers to developing in steps with continuous improvement. Goals and objectives that we set in the beginning are slowly elaborated and made clearer and more detailed as the project progresses. Progressive elaboration allows a project management team to manage at a greater level of detail as the project moves along. Basically, it is the process of identifying the characteristics of a project.

You could refer to my article on Progressive elaboration written as part of the PMP Exam Prep series which also includes an Example of how Progressive elaboration works. Check it out: Click Here

Difference between a PROJECT and OPERATIONS

One of the areas where people often get confused is about distinguishing between a Project and Operations. People use either tem interchangeably while they are both very different. 

While Projects are Temporary Endeavors, Operations are continual or ongoing activities which get repeated every day. A simple example would be – Designing the Honda Civic 2018 model would be a Project. Once the design is ready when the manufacturing plant starts producing them it becomes an operation. 


A Project creates a unique outcome – we created the Honda Civic 2018 model and then the project Ended. Now during manufacturing we are rebuilding the same car over and over again which means its no longer unique. Therefore it becomes an Operation. 

Get the picture? 

Of course Projects and Operations do have some similarities for ex: Execution is done by people, resources are limited, a lot of planning happens beforehand etc. However like I said, the outcome of the two are very different.

It is very important that as a Project Manager (agile or traditional doesn't really matter) you clearly understand this difference. Of course from an exam perspective a question could show up where your ability to distinguish between a Project and Operations determines which is the best answer. 

Why do organizations start projects? 

Organizations start Projects for a Variety of Reasons. The most common reasons why Organizations start projects are: 
1. Market Demand (For a Product or Service) – Whenever there is a demand for a product or service it is only a matter of time before someone starts a project to produce that product or service. With the advent of smart phones, almost all banks wanted to tap into the mobile banking craze and enlisted the help of software firms to build an iphone or android app for their bank. This is a classic example of Market Demand Driven Projects. 

2. Business Needs – Companies initiate projects all the time to meet strategic business needs. For ex: A company may have a need to expand into newer markets. A project could be started where a few senior staff members visit different/new markets and test out the waters before the company decides to open a branch in the place. 
3. Customer Requests – As a continuation to the Market Demand item, when customers request a specific product or service, companies start projects all the time. Going back to the example from point no.1, when a bank approaches an IT company to build a mobile app, the IT company would start a project too. 
4. Technological Advances – With the technology landscape evolving super-fast, industries and companies are forced to start new projects to upgrade themselves to use the latest technologies. 
5. Legal or Regulatory Requirements – Whenever the Legal or Regulatory landscape changes, it results in a ton of new projects. Every year the governments worldwide try to adjust the income tax policies. When the tax rates change, the accounting software have to be updated to reflect the right taxation rules. Even though this is a recurring pattern almost each year, it would be considered a project as the change every year is different. 
Prev: Project Management Basics - PMBOK

Next: Project Life Cycle

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