Projects: Creating Products, Services, and Results

I am often asked, “What is a project? Why is project management important?” The short answer is more profit and fewer headaches.

Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto.com.

Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto.com.

Two Approaches – Different Results

Imagine that the MoonTrust Company conducted a monthly survey with its customers. The satisfaction rate on customer service had declined over the past year and hit an all time low leading to decreased sales. Senior management has decided to implement a new centralized customer service center (CSC).

Furthermore, let’s imagine two different approaches: one approach for Bill and another for Susan.

Bill is a long-term employee that does not like a disciplined, organized team approach. He gives individuals their marching orders and expects a prompt response. Bill thinks project management is a waste of time. He says, “We don’t need a lot of planning; just make it happen! If we make mistakes, we will correct them along the way.”

Susan takes a decidedly different approach, one that involves cross-functional teamwork, planning, greater communication, and management of risks. Susan collaborates with her team to develop the project plans. Everyone understands their tasks, how their tasks relates to other members’ tasks, and which tasks are critical.

Susan’s team meets at least weekly to discuss progress and to support the team. Susan tracks her project success rate and continually seeks to improve her team’s ability to complete projects faster, better, and cheaper.

Either approach can deliver a new CSC. But which will deliver the CSC in the shortest timeframe, with the highest quality, and the least amount of cost? I’m betting on Susan.

What is a Project?

Let’s define the words “temporary” and “unique.”

Projects are Temporary

Projects are temporary; they do not go on for an eternity. Projects have a beginning and an end. In contrast, teams perform operational tasks on a daily basis. Team members scan documents, handle customer calls, and pay invoices. Operational tasks never end.

Projects Create Unique Output

Another important attribute of projects is they produce something that is unique. The output may be a unique:

  • Product
  • Service
  • Result

Now, let’s define the terms of product, service, and result.

What is a Product?

The output of a project may be a product, something that is tangible. Here are some project product examples:

  • Software
  • Building
  • Manufacturing Process
  • Financial Statements

Some projects involve modifying something that already exists. For example, a project team may modify an existing accounts receivable software package. Or a project team may modify or add to an existing building.

What about activities that occur ever year? Can they be considered a project? Yes.

For example, a company may have an annual awards recognition program. Year to year, the program may be similar and yet there are some unique attributes, thus qualifying each year’s awards program as a separate project.

In another example, CPA firms conduct annual audits. The auditors perform similar steps, but the audit will have unique attributes such as:

  • New financial statements and disclosures
  • New or modified transaction cycles
  • New client personnel
  • New audit team members
  • New audit standards.
What is a Service?

A service is intangible. Services include items such as customer service, claims service, utility service, audits, and employee assistance programs, to name a few. How can project management be used to develop and implement a service?

The opening illustration is an example. The company wanted to develop and implement a centralized customer service center (CSC). The tasks for this project might include:

  • Deciding on a location.
  • Defining requirements for cubicles, phones, and computers.
  • Selecting, purchasing, and installing the new call management software.
  • Defining new business processes for taking calls, escalating issues, and managing call volume.
  • Training CSC team on customer service.
  • Communicating new CSC phone number to customers.
What is a Result?

A result may be an outcome or document. The CSC Manager may be concerned with employee turnover and wish to document all the business processes. The CSC trainer could use the business process document for training new employees, resulting in a more uniform experience for customers.

Closing Thoughts

How do companies start the journey towards adopting project management? I suggest the following:

  • Start simple – get your feet wet.
  • Apply project management to a few small to medium sized projects.
  • Train the team members who will serve on the selected projects.
  • Coach the team members throughout the project.
  • Understand there is a learning curve – you may find your initial efforts require more time.
  • Conduct post reviews after each project in order to discover what went well, what did not go well, and what you would do differently.
  • As you gain traction, apply project management to larger, more complex projects.

Question: In your experience, why do organizations fail to adopt project management?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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