Since any project is a singular task, we know that it has a beginning, a middle and an end. This is important, since it means that you can always work out where you are. If Sisyphus only had to push the rock up the hill once, he would be undertaking a project (“… not far to go now”). Unfortunately for him, however, he was involved in line management – his was perhaps the ultimate ongoing activity.
Every project also has:
- team or teams dedicated to the achievement of these objectives
- (hopefully) a project manager.
Objectives are vital. Not only do you need to know what you are trying to do, but you also need to know when you have got there – i.e. when the task is completed. An objective “to calculate the value of [pi]” is not a useful objective, because you will never achieve it. Better would be “to calculate the value of [pi] to 200 decimal places” or “to calculate the value of [pi] as accurately as we can in the time scale of one week”.
Since a project is a singular task, it did not exist before a decision was made to proceed. Hence resources (capital, people, etc.) dedicated to the achievement of the project’s objectives almost certainly will not exist prior to a decision to proceed. Hence the team will need to be assembled at the outset.
Matching the team to the objectives involves rather obvious issues which I shall skip here. Two key questions do arise, however, both of which are largely cultural:
- Do all members of the team understand the objectives and agree to them? A ‘signing off’ process is essential, but more to the point, are all individuals (or organisations) in the team working to develop the same mousetrap?
Projects usually involve different types of skill coming together to work. Cultural differences are inevitable. Architects and drainage engineers may work together on a construction project; University Arts professors and software programmers may work together to develop computer based learning materials. In both cases, interpretation of the objectives will be influenced by the skill background and culture of the various parties. Misunderstandings embedded at an early stage may only become apparent well into the project – by which time easy resolution of differences may be very expensive.
- Have all team members “bought in” to the project? Are they committed to the objectives and, more important, to the Project Management procedures whereby these objectives will be attained? Organisations or individuals that ignore agreed communication channels or procedures (usually because they fail to see the reasons for them) can cause havoc.
In a good project team the individual’s first allegiance will be to the project. The individual’s sense of belonging to the organisation which employs them will be subsidiary to that.