What are the Characteristics of a Project?
Understanding the characteristics of a project are very important to having a successful approach to project management.
Your approach to project management should be influenced by and very aware of the enemies that conspire to make successful project management challenging and difficult. Before you can get into developing and implementing your approach to project management, it’s good to have a shared view of what constitutes a project.
In the rest of this blog, we’ll explore the definition of a project and it’s conflicting constraints, the difference between a project and regular business operations, and different types of projects you can undertake, and the different ways you can manage a project.
Finally, we’ll go through the BrightWork Approach to project management and explain how project management software and templates can help you implement a successful project management approach.
Jump to a section:
- Six Characteristics of a Project
- Projects and Conflicting Constraints
- The Difference between Projects and Operations
- Types of Projects
- Understanding the Importance of Project Characteristics
- Project Management Methodologies
- Spectrum of Project Management – The BrightWork Approach
- Benefits of Using Project Management Software
- Start Fast with Project Management Templates
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Six Characteristics of a Project
The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.
So how do you know you have a project on your hands? Here follows six common characteristics of a project that help answer this question:
- A project is typically for a customer.
- The project is temporary in nature. It typically has a defined start and a defined end-point.
- The project will have a unique set of requirements that need to be delivered within the boundaries of this project.
- A project can typically be more of a once-off endeavor, rather than something that’s happening all the time in a repeated fashion.
- A project is not ‘business as usual’, which is more akin to a process.
- A project can very often be cross-functional, or indeed cross-organization.
You will also find that your typical project is impacted by conflicting constraints. Here are four typical constraints to watch out for:
- Scope – defines the needs that the customer has, or the requirements expressed and implied.
- Time – a project is usually required by a customer by an agreed date.
- Quality – to what standard is the project expected to deliver?
- Resources – the amount of money, budget, or resources that are available to be expended on the project.
Examples of Project Constraints
It’s obviously not possible to fix and agree on all four of these constraints as the projects starts, which is why they’re called conflicting constraints.
Let’s take a simple example to explain: it wouldn’t be possible for you to deliver forty new features or requirements in your project in one year of time to perfect quality with one person, if the last time you did it, it took four years.
It’s important to listen to your customer and ask enough questions, so you understand which of these constraints are really critical, and therefore fixed.
- Is it that all the requirements have to be delivered?
- Or is it that something significant is needed by the end of the year, even if all the requirements are not delivered?
- Or is it that you need to do as much as you can with four people and a hundred thousand dollars?
This is often called the time–quality–cost triangle. Time, quality, and cost are the sides of the triangle and you elongate or shorten each of the sides until they form a triangle. So you may be fixing one of the constraints and adjusting the other two to match.
If I use an example close to home, at BrightWork we release a new product to our customers about three to four times per year, so we endeavor to fix the time at about three to four months.
The quality and the ease of use has to meet a very high standard, it’s not appropriate or right to ship poor quality.
So in the BrightWork case, the time and the quality are fixed and therefore the third constraint, which is the scope of functionality we deliver, is the one that varies. We try to fit in as much capability as we can in each release, but it has to be done in a certain amount of time and with a very high degree of quality.
In our case, time and quality are fixed and scope is variable.
The Difference between Projects and Operations
Projects and operations are two different types of activities that organizations engage in to achieve their strategic goals.
Projects are temporary, unique, goal-oriented activities that require specific resources to achieve a specific objective, while operations are ongoing, day-to-day activities that keep organizations moving forward.
The main differences between projects and operations are:
- Temporary vs. Ongoing: A project is a temporary endeavor with a defined start and end date, while operations are ongoing activities that are part of the day-to-day activities of an organization.
- Unique vs. Repetitive: Projects are unique, with a specific goal or objective that is different from routine operations. Operations, on the other hand, are repetitive, with activities that are performed on a regular basis.
- Scope vs. Continuity: Projects have a specific scope that defines what is included and excluded from the project, while operations are focused on maintaining continuity in the organization’s activities.
- Resources vs. Capacity: Projects require specific resources to achieve their objectives, such as people, time, and budget. Operations, on the other hand, require a capacity of resources to sustain the ongoing activities of the organization.
- Risk vs. Stability: Projects are often associated with risk, as they involve a degree of uncertainty and may encounter unexpected challenges. Operations are generally more stable, with a focus on maintaining consistent performance and minimizing risk.
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Types of Projects
Projects can be broadly classified into different types based on their characteristics, objectives, and deliverables. Here are some common types of projects:
- Construction projects: Projects involving the construction of buildings, bridges, roads, and other physical structures.
- Information technology (IT) projects: Projects involving the development and implementation of software, hardware, and networking systems.
- Marketing and advertising projects: Projects involving the development of marketing and advertising campaigns, branding initiatives, and product launches.
- Research and development (R&D) projects: Projects involving the development of new products, services, or technologies, or the improvement of existing ones.
- Event management projects: Projects involving the planning and execution of events such as conferences, trade shows, and festivals.
- Organizational change projects: Projects involving the implementation of organizational changes, such as mergers, acquisitions, or restructuring initiatives.
- Process improvement projects: Projects involving the improvement of existing processes to enhance efficiency, reduce waste, and increase productivity.
- Social and community projects: Projects involving the development of social and community initiatives, such as charitable programs, community service projects, and public welfare campaigns.
These are just a few examples of the many types of projects that exist. Project types can also be classified based on their complexity, scope, size, and duration, among other factors.
Understanding the type of project is critical to developing an effective project plan and ensuring successful project outcomes.
Understanding the Importance of Project Characteristics
Understanding project characteristics is essential for project management because it allows project managers to tailor their approach to the unique needs and challenges of each project. Here are some reasons why understanding project characteristics is important:
- Helps to identify project objectives: By understanding the characteristics of a project, project managers can identify the objectives they want to achieve, which helps in defining the project scope and determining the necessary resources.
- Determines project complexity: Understanding project characteristics helps project managers to determine the level of complexity involved, which can help them in planning and allocating resources accordingly.
- Enables better risk management: By understanding project characteristics, project managers can identify potential risks and plan for them in advance, which can help in reducing the impact of any potential issues.
- Determines the project team: Project characteristics can also help in determining the skills and expertise required to successfully execute the project, which can help in selecting the right team members.
- Helps in selecting the right project management approach: Different projects require different project management approaches, and understanding the characteristics of a project can help in selecting the most appropriate approach.
Project Management Methodologies
There are various project management methodologies or frameworks that you can use to manage projects. Each framework with its own set of principles, processes, and practices. Here are some common project management methodologies:
- Waterfall methodology: A linear, sequential approach to project management, where each phase is completed before moving on to the next one. This methodology is most suitable for projects with a clearly defined scope, predictable outcomes, and well-established processes.
- Agile methodology: An iterative, incremental approach to project management, which emphasizes flexibility, collaboration, and responsiveness to change. This methodology is most suitable for projects with changing requirements, evolving technologies, or uncertain outcomes.
- Scrum methodology: A framework within the Agile methodology that focuses on delivering value in short sprints, with a cross-functional team working collaboratively to deliver the product incrementally.
- Kanban methodology: A lean approach to project management that emphasizes visualizing work, limiting work in progress, and managing flow. This methodology is most suitable for projects with a focus on continuous improvement and maximizing efficiency.
- Lean methodology: A continuous improvement approach that focuses on maximizing value and minimizing waste by identifying and eliminating non-value-added activities in the project.
- PRINCE2 methodology: A process-based approach to project management, which provides a structured framework for planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing projects.
- PMBOK methodology: A guide developed by the Project Management Institute (PMI) that outlines the standard processes, practices, and knowledge areas for project management.
- Six Sigma methodology: A data-driven approach to quality management that uses statistical methods to identify and eliminate defects in the project.
- Hybrid Project Management: Hybrid project management is an approach that combines the best practices of both traditional (waterfall) and agile project management methodologies to create a customized project management framework that meets the specific needs of a project.
Each methodology has its own strengths and weaknesses and is suitable for different types of projects and organizations. It is important to select the appropriate methodology based on the project characteristics, stakeholder requirements, and organizational culture.
Get your projects under control with project management templates for Microsoft 365.
Spectrum of Project Management
Here at BrightWork we like to think of project management as a spectrum.
In fact, it is the idea of the “Project Management Spectrum” that guided our template-based approach to project management on SharePoint, and more recently Microsoft 365 as well with BrightWork 365.
Sometimes your project might be quite small, or it may be a project you find very easy to deliver as you have done it many times before. In these scenarios, it doesn’t make sense to deploy a very large amount of project management. Or often your team may not be ready to use a large amount of collaborative project management. These two factors (project complexity and team readiness) imply a need for differing amounts of project management.
In this simple example of a practical project management spectrum, there are four sections. The sections go left to right, from Ultra Lite to Lite to Standard and to Structured, depicting different and increasing amounts of project management.
You will note that there are arrows on both ends of the spectrum. This reflects the fact that even though you start in one place, for example Lite, you might move left to Ultra-Lite at a later point or you may move right on the spectrum toward Standard. This reflects the reality that different projects require differing amounts of project management at different times
Benefits of Using Project Management Software
Now that you understand the characteristics and constraints facing a typical project, it’s time to think about how you will actually manage the work!
Software can provide a wide range of benefits for project management, such as:
- Planning and scheduling by providing tools to create project timelines, assign tasks, and set deadlines.
- Resource management by tracking and allocating resources such as people, equipment, and budget.
- Facilitate collaboration and communication among team members by providing tools for messaging, file sharing, and project updates.
- Track progress by providing real-time updates on task completion, milestones, and overall project progress.
- Risk management by providing tools to identify, assess, and mitigate project risks.
- Reporting and analysis by providing data on project performance, resource utilization, and other metrics.
- Integration with other tools such as accounting software, collaboration software, and customer relationship management (CRM) software, to streamline project management processes.
Start Fast with Project Management Templates
If a project management solution is already used within your organization, start there.
If not, check to see if Microsoft 365, the productivity suite and collaborative platform from Microsoft, is available. BrightWork 365 is a project and portfolio management solution that integrates with Microsoft 365 platform.
With BrightWork 365, you can:
- Manage projects with Microsoft 365, Teams, SharePoint Online, and the Power Platform
- Control portfolios with Power BI dashboards
- Improve project management processes with templates for Microsoft 365
- Leverage Microsoft, Power Platform, and Teams for project management
- Get immediate visibility with a Start/Evolve deployment approach