I know it sounds strange, but a few days ago, one of my small business clients actually asked me, “What is a business project?” I found myself wondering how to answer that. After all, we’re all being bombarded with advice about projects. The media is constantly filled with news of one project or another that fails. But they usually talk about major construction or municipal infrastructure projects. And then they try to justify business people learning about project management because of the construction failures.
But they never seem to explain what is a business project.
So in this article, I’m going to try to explain what is a business project and why it is unique from other types of projects. And while I’m at it, I’ll explain where they are the same. First of all, let’s clarify what a project is and then we’ll talk about the specific version.
A project is a set of tasks. In business planning speak that’s just another way of saying it’s a process or system. However, unlike most business systems one of its key characteristics is that it has a specific beginning and end. Most business systems are permanent. Or at least have some level of permanency to them. A project, on the other hand, is conceived as a temporary endeavor.
The second key characteristic of a project is that of uniqueness. The product is always unique. The specific set of tasks that make up the project, are almost always unique. The tasks may follow a pattern. The tasks may be individually common. However, the arrangement of tasks and something in the tasks will be unique to this project.
So projects can include such things as building an office building. Or building a house. Or building a bridge. But they can also include such things as designing a rocket ship or a satellite. Or it might include the development of a new drug. Or a new product.
… and therefore, it shares the characteristics of uniqueness and a temporary nature. It also produces a unique product and it may use common tasks.
The difference lies in the purpose of a business project versus other projects. A business project is a project specifically intended to achieve a business objective. For example, an IS or IT project may have as its objective implementing a new general ledger system. Because it is intended to achieve a business objective (the new general ledger system) it is a business project. A business may decide it needs to reorganize itself. The process of reorganizing is a business project. Or a business may decide it needs to do some marketing. The design and implementation of the marketing campaign is a business project.
There are three basic types of business project. The first is the strategic project. This type of project is focused on achieving objectives determined during the business planning or strategic process. A second type is the operational project. These are projects which are initiated for business reasons other than achieving a strategic objective. For example, a general ledger may have become obsolete. So a business project is initiated in order to implement a new release of the general ledger. The third type is the repeating or operationalized project. These projects run so frequently that much of the regular project planning can be repeated.