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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.

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Comment by Kamran Ashraf Arain on October 27, 2010 at 3:08am
I am agree with Mr. George J Webster, that many times, "project is not a project", especially in third world countries, Government and as well as Private sectors initiated many projects without time bind, and many times those persons which especially hired for project, leave the project in mid b/c project time is too long. although it takes a little more effort in training to new team for achieving goal.
Comment by Mike Tomlinson on October 25, 2010 at 7:05am
You might consider this as sophistry but I've always tried to keep the definition of a project to be tight (soemthing like your definition) but then introduced the Programme Management idea as a way of intermediating between the ongoing and constant changes in priority and demand (political as well as economic) to set priotities and change emphasis. The ProgMan process is used to assemble major new demands and then group them into 'action packages' which become projects. Lack of resources of any kind that become a major risk to success in any project can be bounced back to the ProgMan team to re-assign priorities and accept the consequences of those decisions. Thus even top board personnel could be involved when the constratint is big enough and they don't have to get involbed in the nitty-gritty of any individual project.
Hope this helps.
Comment by Bijumon.K.C on October 22, 2010 at 1:44am
This is more like an operation and can manage as a project. I have tried to manage the the PPM services of a residential property as project, unfortunately I was not able to continue with that assignment. Ofcourse the PM process and techniques will surely help to manage some operations as project but you should have to train your team members.
Comment by Angel Agueda Barrero on October 20, 2010 at 10:43am
From my point of view, time constraint doesn't mean a planned end. Time restriction sometimes means a unknow finalization date but there will be a finalization and, during the project the team will do different products and not the same. When you run projects following agile methodologies are in the same situation.

Good luck!
Angel Agueda

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