Is your upcoming initiative a project?

Is your upcoming initiative a project?

Are you about to start an initiative, but unsure whether what is on your hands is a project and should be organized as such? Could the initiative perhaps be better placed as a task that should be taken care of as part of everyday operations?

What makes a project

Different methodologies within project management have provided definitions of what makes a project. The various definitions are very similar and can be summed up as follows:

  • Temporary undertaking with defined start date and end date
  • Clearly defined purpose that will change your current situation
  • Seeks to achieve distinctly new results, behaviours, products or services
  • Contains unknown challenges and risks and new learning
  • Constrained by Time, Cost and Resources
  • Separate organization & cooperation across groups, departments, hierarchies

If your initiative is ongoing maintenance and routine (not a one-time effort), if the initiative uses existing products/services, uses existing practices and processes and does not demand cooperation across different parts of companies, more likely than not, what you are dealing with is a task that belongs with your Operations. An example could be a customer inquiry to have a faulty feature of a running system fixed.

Types of projects

Projects can be executed in order to achieve a variety of purposes. For example, you could be building a house, implementing an IT system, implementing new business processes, creating a new product/service or organizing a particular event. All of these types of initiatives naturally lend themselves to project methodology.

Looking at the examples above, it is natural to ask: does size play a part in making an initiative a project? Projects can be carried out by one person wearing many hats in the process. However, projects are more commonly thought of as having a size/complexity/expected value that needs to involve groups, organizations or larger cross-national communities.

Project Basis – the “Contract”

Running projects involves being bound by a set of constraints which must be continuously managed. These constraints are agreed before project start-up and are considered the contract under which the project is to be carried out. This set of constraints are referred to as the “Project Triangle”, the “Iron Triangle” or the“Triple Constraints”. The project contract must contain definitions for the following constraints

  • Time
  • Cost / Resources
  • Scope

Time, cost/resources and scope are the boundaries surrounding the key issue of the level of quality that is expected from the project output. It is important to be aware that all three constraints must balance and make the delivery of the defined quality possible. If one constraint or the quality expectations are changed, then all other areas must be re-evaluated. This often proves a somewhat painful exercise, but must be done in order to keep the project on a realistic footing.

Simultaneous optimization in all areas of the triangle is not a viable goal. We can focus on quality (raise the bar) and it follows that time, cost/resources and scope must be adjusted to obtain this quality. We can focus on scope (add in additional items) and it follows that time, cost/resources and quality must be adjusted. We can be under pressure to deliver to a tight timeline from which follows that costs/resource usage likely go up and/or scope or quality may be reduced. We can focus on costs/resources (spending less, getting cheaper/fewer resources) from which follows that the timeline may need to be extended, and scope and quality may need to be adjusted.


So, you have a project on your hands. What to expect and what to do? It certainly depends on your company’s experience and comfort level with running projects. What you must expect is that it will not be business as usual (then you’d be dealing with operations).

You may face unknown situations, risks and opportunities. The changes the project brings, both while being executed and when the results are available to the company, may meet with push-back from stakeholders. Most likely your project will need contributions from a range of internal and external stakeholders. All that leads to a need for continuous and dedicated organization and management; project management.

Feel inspired? Have ideas? Need to launch initiatives? Get in touch with NT Management Consulting today. Please use the contact form on our homepage.