Everyone recognises a JCB, the ubiquitous yellow excavator that is found on construction sites the world over. In the early 2000s the company elected to develop and use its own diesel engine to power these machines, rather than buy them in. The head of the company, Sir Anthony Bamford, decided that an impressive way to promote the new engine would be to make an attempt on the world land speed record for a diesel-powered car. The JCB Dieselmax car was put together and the attempt was made in August 2006. Was it successful?
A project is a temporary endeavour to create a specific output for a customer using defined and organised resources in a controlled manner, within a defined time period and budget. It must make sense in terms of the organisation’s (customer’s) strategy. Some definitions stress that each project is unique but uniqueness, like complexity, must not be pursued for its own sake.
Projects differ from operations (day to day activities) in many ways. Projects emphasize effectiveness – creating the output that does the job, recognising that the path to that may not always be smooth and plans may need revising along the way. Change is revolutionary in projects. Operations stress efficiency – honing the way a series of repetitive, or largely-repetitive, tasks are done so that their cost, duration and quality are consistent and they are improved incrementally over time. Operatuions are evolutionary in character.
That said, every new operation is the result of one or more projects. Subsequent projects modify, replace or expand operations to address new challenges and opprtunities.
Where an external agency (often a project firm) does the project, the client should run a customer project to ensure the organisation assists the project work and is ready for the output.
The terms ‘programme’ and ‘portfolio’ get used to good deal – often when the right term would be ‘project’. Strictly speaking, a programme is a coordinated set of projects with a common aim; a portfolio is a collection of projects funded and managed by the same organisation.
Many organisations will have a portfolio of projects that run year on year. The next diagram shows what might be the pattern in one such organisation. It shows how each year new projects enter the project and other leave. Some never get approval, some are terminated early because their business case no longer holds up, and others deliver the output they promised.
In the diagram project proposal ‘e’ does not make it beyond definition (pinning down the feasibility of the project). Project ‘f’ is approved and the output is being produced but in 2022 something happens and the project is abandoned. Project ‘g’ is approved in 2020, is well into production in 2021, and the output is delivered in 2022. In 2020 there are eight projects in the portfolio, in 2021 and 2022 there are ten.
Tremayne, D. (2006). The world’s fastest diesel. Yeovil, UK: Haynes Publishing.
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