“All improvement takes place project by project and in no other way.”
Dr Joseph Juran
You are a project manager. You may not know it, but you are. The choice to that you have is to be a good project manager or a bad one or, even worse, let others run your projects for you.
The reason that we are all project managers is that we all manage change. In our personal lives, we all choose an education and/or a career, engage in relationships, buy a car or a house and deal with the loss of loved ones. And through our organizations we often want to effect change in working towards our mission.
A project is nothing more than a way to create or manage a change. As long as an activity is routine and doesn’t change too much, it doesn’t require a project approach. For example, if you wake up every day at 7 am, eat cereal and coffee and drive the same route to work, you’re in operational mode. You don’t really need to think about these activities too much and you can easily handle minor disturbances like a little more traffic on the way. Unless something goes really awry, things flow smoothly.
But now think about what you need to do when you decide to have a breakfast omelet with vegetables every day instead. You have to remember buying eggs and vegetables, the cooking takes longer so you will have to get up 10 minutes earlier, and you may need to change your cleaning routine around the kitchen. And because you will no longer be eating it, you have to figure out what to do with the leftover cereal. In other words, you have to think of specific actions outside your normal routine and perform them at an appropriate time. You just became a project manager.
If you don’t manage the project well, it’s easy to see how things can spiral out of control far beyond the scope of the changed breakfast. If you don’t account for the longer preparation, you could end up being late to an important meeting at work or even worse, get into a traffic accident because you’re rushing too much. Your housemates may not appreciate the mess you’re leaving behind or the space you’re now taking up in the refrigerator. Managing change almost always involves managing communication.
In a later post I’ll come back to some of the most effective ways to run a project but I want to leave you with one important point: the objective of a project is to end. If an activity doesn’t have a defined end state, it’s not a project. In a way that’s also why most nonprofits are ultimately projects: we often work towards a world that won’t need us anymore.