What are the three key characteristics of a project?

While no two projects are identical, there are three key characteristics that all projects possess. These three characteristics must always be considered when making a decision within a project and also provide constraints to the delivery of the objective.

The three key project characteristics are:

  • Time
  • Scope
  • Budget

Time (sometimes known as timeframe or schedule): This refers to how long the project will take, and generally involves using past experience to predicate the likely time that parts of a project will take. The scheduling involved in a project shows what should happen when and there are usually parts that can’t occur until preceding parts are complete. Using the previous kitchen renovation example, you can’t compare quotes until you have them and you can’t be given quotes until the kitchen company knows what they are quoting for.

Scope: Scope refers to what is included within the project and what is excluded. This is where you will establish if re-plumbing the kitchen is in scope, if installing new whiteware such as a fridge or dishwasher is in scope, or if replacing the kitchen floor is in scope. The clearer the scope, the easier  for ambiguity to be reduced and risks minimised.

Cost (also known as budget): The budget or cost of the project sets out your expectation as to how much the project will cost. In my previous experience with CRM systems, the vendor will provide a quote based on the number of hours it will take to develop a given feature. With the kitchen example, it might be a couple of figures composed of the physical cost of the kitchen alongside the labour cost of the install.

Together these three aspects create what is known as the Project Management Triangle, and any change to one of the characteristics will result in a change to at least one of the others.

Source: Wikipedia, John Manual Kennedy

An example of such a change could be that you need the kitchen installed by a certain date e.g. two weeks earlier. The kitchen company agrees that can be done but says it will cost you an extra 50% in labour costs and you will need to decide if that is acceptable for you.

Likewise, the quoted price for a new kitchen may be too high. The company may be able to bring the price down by lowering the scope and ditching some of the jewel encrusted taps and gold leaf bench tops.

Finally, if you want to change the project scope, for instance add French doors to your kitchen, it’s going to either bump up the price or add time to the finish date, or most likely both.

Another important characteristic of a project is that a project is temporary. While some projects may run for years and years, they do have a set goal in mind which, when completed, will mean the project is over. Often these projects will end and then a new project will start which picks up from where the previous project ended. With new CRM/database systems, once they have been delivered, there are usually many smaller subsequent updates which form part of a new project or projects.

One sign of a poorly managed project could be that the project structure continues to operate for quite some time after the project has been delivered. Of course, learning that a project is poorly managed is something we would rather know sooner than later!

For a project to be managed well, a clearly defined end point is a must.

Fast Company – What the Hell is Project Management, Anyway?

A great interview of Project Management veteran Frank Ryle by Kevin Purdy. It covers what project management actually is, the type of person who might make a good project manager, tools that can be used and a couple of handy tips including the importance of a work break down structure. Well worth a read.

What the Hell is Project Management, Anyway?

Link via Fast Company.

What the Hell is Project Management, Anyway?

What exactly IS Project Management?

Project Management lies somewhere between an art and a science and typically  involves cooperating with others to get the ‘job’ done. What exactly the ‘job’ is can  vary immensely – it could be small, big, at home or at work.

Generally, a collection of tasks make up a job and collectively these tasks can be called a project when they relate and lead into one another. For example, Task A needs to be completed before Task B can start, which in turn needs to be completed before Task C starts.

The aim of a project is to deliver a ‘product’ and this product could be a physical thing like a building, a software application or even something intangible like improving how something is done at a business. In order to make life easier, project management is also about putting a plan and methodology in place to improve the chances of your project succeeding.

With a small project such as getting new carpet for your home, there are a few steps to ensure it gets done. You would need to measure the area you want the carpet for, select the carpet and finally have it laid. A more complex project might involve laying carpet as part of a new house build.

Some more project examples include:

  • Building a solar panel for your home
  • Building a dolls house for your daughter
  • Planning an event like a wedding or business conference
  • Purchasing a laptop and not knowing where to begin
  • Renovating a kitchen
  • Launching a website
  • Brewing your own beer
  • Restructuring how a business operates
  • Arranging an office move
  • Launching a space shuttle

Let’s take one of the above examples and consider how it might look if we were to ‘projectise’ it in a very basic way.

There are a number of ways that we could do this. One is to start at the beginning and work forwards, and the other is to start at the end and work backwards. For the below example we’ll work forwards but this is by no means the only method. Essentially we want to spend some planning out some some clear steps that need to be taken in a sequential order.

It is often better to consider the steps that need to be taken before arranging them into an order, but for the purposes of the example, I’ve done both at the same time.

Renovating a kitchen:

Turn This

  1. Measure the space of your existing kitchen
  2. Look at various kitchen styles you are interested in
  3. Gather information about kitchens – how much do they cost, how long the work takes from start to finish, how much the labour/installation costs might be
  4. Decide if you can afford the cost of a new kitchen – you may have an idea of the the most you are able to spend
  5. If you decide to proceed, narrow down the type of kitchen to a couple of choices (it’s always good to have more than one option)
  6. Contact kitchen companies and ask for quotes on the main kitchen types you are interested. In order to aid in the decision making process, contact multiple companies. Alternatively, you may have some additional steps to research the best companies – where ‘best’ is relevant to you e.g price, speed, choice, style etc.
  7. Compare quotes and decide on which is your preferred option
  8. Contact company and notify you would like to proceed

Into This!

While the steps above are fairly basic, there are some that have been left out such as deciding if you wanted to go with a new or second-hand kitchen or deciding if you wanted to renovate it yourself. These sort of things are known as assumptions – I have assumed that the kitchen renovation is going to be a new renovation done by a kitchen company. Before starting any project and as part of the planning process it’s good to have the assumptions listed. These assumptions can also have additional relevant information recorded alongside them, however I’ll cover this in a later post.

With the above example, I’ll freely admit that I may have left out some of the possible steps or even got something wrong and this is where project collaboration becomes important. The people you work alongside are able to provide a reality check and help you ensure you are on the right or track.

“No one is an island, a Project Manager even more so.”

In future posts I’ll go into more detail on structuring projects and look at some of the other important aspects which will help your project to be a success.

Why blog about Project Management?

Project Management is something that a number of us practice in our daily lives without even realising it, and it’s something that I’ve been involved with since late 2006.

I’m keen to develop my personal thoughts and thinking on project management and thought that a blog could be one way of achieving this. As someone who learns by sharing and explaining things to others, I hope to challenge myself to think more deeply about the work I do and consider ways that I can improve how I work. I also hope that this will be found useful by others out there who are considering project management as a career choice or even seasoned project managers who want to share some PM stories.

By blogging, it also means my other half doesn’t have to put with my ramblings and mutterings (a bonus for her!)

Within the world of Project Management, there are a number of buzzwords, methods, practices and training paths and to someone starting out it can all seem a bit overwhelming. I hope to shed some light on these areas and explain them in an easy to understand way.

The initial goals of my blogging are:

  1. Sharing some of my personal project experiences
  2. Talking about various aspects important to a project
  3. Discussing the tools available that can help your project succeed
  4. Sharing thoughts and ideas from other project managers
  5. Demystify some of the buzzwords of project management

These goals will no doubt evolve and change as the blog grows, however they capture what my initial intention is.

Initially I intend to mix the concepts of home and work projects as there is a lot of overlap in terms of how to be a successful, but at times I’ll focus on different areas. While my experience lies predominately within the IT world, I won’t be aiming to dwell on technical details.

So, let’s get on with it! :-)