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So They Called It a ‘Project’… but Is It?


Many large organizations have projects. The level of attention provided to these corporate projects can vary a lot, along with the rate of success. In organizations with significant operations, it is very easy to minimize the importance of proper management and leadership on projects.

Projects are notably different from regular operations of the organization. They are not secondary activities that are managed on the side of the desk, whenever someone has time for it. It is another, equally important part of the business. Significant strategic initiatives of large organizations are often projects. It is time for organizations to put the appropriate level of attention to their projects.

Projects at a glance

Let’s get back to the basics. What is a project?

A Project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.

A unique product, service or result” means that there is a result at the end of the project that is identifiable and measurable. “Temporary” means that there are start and end dates that can be identified for the project.

On the leadership side, too many projects fail because executives are not providing the necessary key support. Almost 100% of their time is dedicated to regular operations, and projects get the leftover time available. But if you think about it, it is the project that requires attention. The operations are well defined, and staff is aware of what needs to be done. Meanwhile, the project is unique and requires strategic directions, decisions, and enabling with appropriate resources.

Projects and operations must be managed differently. It starts with keeping that definition of a project in mind.

Misidentified projects

Project managers have lived and talked a lot about scope creep, the uncontrolled changes or continuous growth in the scope of the project. Here is what is worse than scope creep and happens a lot: confusing the idea of an initiative with a project. What is the key symptom of that? An undefined result, where it is impossible to identify the end of the project.

Let me give you some examples:

  • Expansion of the business is an initiative, but without further definition, it is impossible to identify the results and the end of the project.
  • Modernization of the IT infrastructure can be an important strategic initiative, an enabler for the future of the organization. However, it is not a project. It is a strategic goal, which can also be delivered as a portfolio of projects.

Imagine you have to write a project closure report. Can you say that the project should now be closed because the intended results have been completed? Yes, the scope can have evolved, and that is fine; we need proper agility in project management and even in corporate governance. But this is different. This is change management. I am talking here about the lack of proper definition of projects. These “projects” will have an almost permanent lifespan because they are not defined appropriately. Often, they deliver results—but at a huge cost. It is not hard to wander when you don’t know where you are going.

Is it a project?

So they called it a project? Make sure of these elements:

  • The project is appropriately defined, with a result and an end date be identified. Otherwise, you have an idea or an initiative.
  • If not properly defined, ensure the first step is to clarify a project. It is much easier to manage a project when we know what defines success.
  • Ensure it is a project, and not a collection of projects. Large organizations are good at making this mistake. An initiative is often defined as a project, while managing it as a portfolio of projects would have been more effective.

A project should never be the blank approval to do the other activities that are not operations. It needs leadership support and sound project management.

They might call it a project, but make sure it is a project. Only then will projects truly support the goals of the organization.


For more brilliant insights, check out Michel’s website: Project-Aria

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One Comment

  1. Yes, organizations should have clear criteria to distinguish between what is a project and what is not. Too often things indeed are managed on the side rather than with focused resources and proper sponsorship. The senior leaders would do well to understand and support project management as the vehicle operational transformation.

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