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Everything is a Project

The industrial revolution brought about the division of labor, repeatable tasks, factories, and assembly lines. Work was accomplished by people whose perspective was only as broad as the tasks they were assigned to do. A strong and rigid hierarchy of management kept all the people in line and all the pieces together. The process and outcome was simple and repeatable.

 

In the 1980’s knowledge workers began to emerge in the workforce with specialized skills that were not developed by experience (as in the past) but by learning. Because of the degree of their specialization, knowledge workers required less management and more autonomy, thus beginning the “softening” of management’s heavy handedness.

Then came the quality movement, where problems tended to require cross-departmental groups of individuals to solve them. This led to the team explosion in the early 1990’s. The goal of this movement was high performance through clear objectives and self-direction, via collaboration.

Midst the rise in knowledge workers and the increase in work being accomplished through teams, projects emerged. Even though projects have been around since the Pharaohs of Egypt, this unique combination of events led to an increased awareness and explosion of projects in the mid 1990’s.

Not all organizations embraced this evolution at the same speed. Science and technology-oriented markets tended to adopt it faster. Today, all industries and organizations are at the state where all work gets done through projects.

 

A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service: temporary, meaning every project has a definite beginning and a definite end; and unique, meaning the product or service is different in some distinguishing way from other similar products or services.

 

Projects are everywhere. We may not always see them because of their simplicity or scale, but by definition they are there. Take for example, a child’s birthday party, a family reunion, or a vacation. They are all unique and temporary endeavors. While these examples may not appear on your radar screen of concern, the following business projects might:

  • Departmental Initiatives: Installing an ERP system. Developing a marketing campaign. Resolving a six-sigma process anomaly.
  • Product Development: Designing a better machine. Inventing a new Post-it® note. Making a better tasting non-fat ice cream.
  • Mergers and Acquisitions: Merging two car companies. Purchasing a new drug formulation, bringing it through four phases of testing, and introducing it to the market. Acquiring multiple smaller lending institutions and merging them into an existing institution.
  • Conferences and Functions: Putting on an internal sales conference. Hosting heads of states. Organizing a non-profit fund raiser.
  • Administrative Activities: Creating year-end financial reports. Completing requests for proposals. Planning and coordinating office moves.

While all work in today’s world gets done through projects, not all organizations label them as projects, and therefore take advantage of the well-developed project disciplines available to organizations. Without project management, business analysis, and portfolio management disciplines projects have less chance of success. Without them project sponsors, team members, and project benefactors get frustrated because of incomplete visions, lack of organization, wasted efforts, and constant delays.

Projects are here to stay and so is the need to work more efficiently and effectively. Market demands and global competition are going to keep the pressure on organizations. It’s time to recognize projects (big and small) for what they are and embrace the disciplines associated with them. It’s time to change and get better.