Ask any project manager to define a project and you will get an answer that goes something like this: "A project is a temporary effort whose purpose is to create a unique product or service. Projects usually include constraints and risks regarding costs, schedules or performance outcomes. Project management is that set of principles, practices, and techniques that are applied to lead project teams, and to control project schedules, costs, and performance risks to result in delighted customers." Pretty simple! I especially like the "delighted customers" part. Nothing makes my heart soar like the giggly sound of a delighted customer.
But sometimes, a project is not a project. As we all know, a project has to, by definition, have a starting point (the Start Date) and an ending point (the End Date). But what if your customer is a government department (pick any level - Federal, State or Provincial, Civic etc) who want to use project management software and techniques to track ongoing, never ending schedules. For example, let's say that the department of roads wants to keep track of ongoing maintenance efforts (both planned and unscheduled). They want to track resource efforts, but not costs. They want to be able to compare actuals to planned, but do not want to necessarily react to slippages (or accelerations) in their schedules. They want to delete completed tasks and keep adding new tasks as they come in the future, causing the end date of the project to keep moving forward in time, essentially never having a firm end date in mind, and not really wanting one. Perpetual schedule creep as a way of life. Are we still talking about a project?
I have had many occasions to participate in "projects" of this sort. In my mind, the problem at hand is not project oriented, but rather schedule oriented, and the customer would be better off buying a work scheduling software packcage (like Elite Web's Scheduler program) as opposed to a Project Management software suite. The problem is that, although the scheduling focus is a big part of the job, the approach they want to take still makes use of PM techniques, practices and principles. So what do you do?
Although it takes a little more effort in training the customer, project management techniques can be taught to the customer, and they can be integrated with PM software to get the job done. Sure, you have to change your approach to setting baselines and tracking actuals, and you have to get over the lack of defined end dates and other goals, but with the proper instruction in the basics of Project Management and PM software, customers can be taught how to run projects which are not projects.