Projects I: The Basics

Project – arguably the most overused word in management.

With good reason.

A Project is an easy way to put a boundary around some things and make a person or group of people responsible for getting those things done.

The first thing to consider are you working in a project or are you in an operations mode. Projects MUST have a beginning, defined scope and most important of all an END.

Projects without an END are operational activities or sustaining work.

So if you need to break up work – define a few projects, make sure they have a good stopping point and it might just help you delegate.

Projects are typically broken down into stages depending on what organization you are operating within. Regardless of the organization a project life-cycle will help to people understand what is needed.


Whether the project is the design, build and test of a part or the design and installation of a kitchen or the development of a software solution for multiple stakeholders in ten countries – some things won’t change.

Among the constants are – Risk and Effort – more of those in future posts.

Another common feature of projects is stages, which I quickly summarize as:

  1. Getting started
  2. Getting things done
  3. Stopping

Clearly projects can have more stages, but these are just sub-stages to the big three above.

In each stage different things will be important, some of which are consistent in every organization.  Some really aren’t and that’s where effort needs to be applied to determine what matches each organization. This will be discussed in subsequent posts exploring the stages of project work.

Exploring the three in turn:

Getting Started – The enjoyable stage

You’ve just started a project, it’s interesting, there’s lots to do.

Enthusiasm will be high anyone involved is happy to work on the new project, but…

You might just want to slow down a minute.

For a project to start successfully, you must, “start with the end in mind”.

So, what is the scope of the project? what will mean success? who is involved? what resources are need? does everyone know their roles? in what order do things need to be completed? what organization rules do you need to follow? what legislation applies? and potentially many more.

To underestimate this stage will lead to problems later in the project. Planning and preparation will be explored further, but for now, know it is very important.

Getting things done – The tough stage

The central stage of the project. All the people are busy doing things. Progress is being made (hopefully). Money and time are probably being spent quickly.

The challenge in this stage is finding the balance between monitoring and micro-managing. Between working hard and working smart.

Misunderstandings are common in this stage of a project, and they always cost you time. Future posts will explore this stage of project work but for now remember to keep your eyes on the big objectives and keep working efficiently on your things.

Stopping – The Hardest Stage

In almost every organization stopping is the hardest part of any project. Every organization contains people who will often be perfectionists or magpies*. Both of these personality types make it hard to stop, along with plenty of other personalty types that bring their own challenges.

Stopping means you’ve completed the scope of the project, verified with the client or customer that they agree that you are done AND taken care of any internal tidy up.

Remember – know when to stop. Remember projects MUST stop so figure out what this means and how you’ll do it.

* Magpies – people who see a new bright thing and want to go after it forgetting what they were doing before, similar to toddlers.


Staying with the basics of a project – plans.

Creating plans does not need a piece of software. If you want a software package many are available, one famous one, and a few others.

But as I will continually state if you can’t manage a process on paper you really shouldn’t start throwing software into the mix.  See the People, Process, Technology Golden Rule.

More on planning soon, it is a big subject. For now consider taking these actions.

Things to do:

  1. Recognize when you are working in a project.
  2. Define the stages of a project that match your organization.
  3. Identify what is important in each newly defined stage.