Over the course of my career Ive encountered many people who define something as a project even though its really not. Sometimes the term is a buzzword that gets tossed around the boardroom, other times its an honest misunderstanding of requirements. In every case, Ive had to define a real project and help them set their sights on something concrete.
In order to clear up any other misconceptions out there, heres a quick and dirty list of what projects are not:
You might be able to call your attempt at home improvement a project, but for businesses and organizations, the scale is a bit too small. Truly professional-level projects require collaboration between different people or groups in order to achieve the greatest effect. Solo operations arent any more projects as they are a team.
Projects are meant to accomplish a solidly defined goal or set of goals. A scattershot effort with vague objectives is just thatunfocused, non-directed, and most likely not going to be very effective. The problem here is that clients often mistake benefits for objectives.
One of the easiest project examples to understand is bridge construction. Yes, building a bridge can increase commerce, speed up travel, promote tourism, and create jobs. But those are all benefits. The actual project is the bridge itself.
It Doesnt Move the Organization Forward
Projects are supposed to be a benefit to the organization. Its unfortunate to say, but Ive handled a couple of projects that were essentially money sinks, which were undertaken just because there was some room left in the annual budget, and they needed to spend it otherwise next years budget would shrink. Although my company was paid no problem, the project was a waste in all other aspects. The client didnt care how much time we put into it, nor the quality of the deliverables.
True projects drive things forward. If the organization isnt better off for having done the project, then why do it in the first place?
Its An Ongoing Activity
By far the biggest mistake people make when defining a project is confusing them with ongoing operations. Ongoing operations are very different from ongoing projects. The key difference is that ongoing operations are a normal part of how a company does business (like producing cars), while an ongoing project is a project whose end date has been repeatedly extended and delayed. Theres still a definite end to the project its just a long time in coming.
Properly defining a project isnt just a matter of semantics. It also has very real implications of how a project performs. With the above list, I hope youve become just a little bit wiser in what to expect from your PMO.
Image credit, Flickr, Ethan Lofton