Delivering a project can be challenging at the best of times but what if there is confusion or disputes about which initiatives actually constitute a project?

A review of an organisation’s project slate will reveal most in-flight projects meet the basic criteria of cost, risk and complexity to comfortably be deemed a project. But like most things, it is the outliers that can create the greatest challenge, i.e. the initiatives on the margins that may or may not need project disciplines to be delivered successfully.

Whilst not exhaustive, we’ve outlined a list of the criteria that should be worked through to help develop a project classification framework to decide what constitutes a project for your organisation.

It might be small but is it risky?

The amount of risk an initiative will take on is a key determining factor as to whether it should be shaped up and run as a project or not.

Many projects fail due to poor risk management or the inability of those delivering the outcomes to identify and manage risk effectively. An initiative can be small in reach and budget but due to a high-risk profile may be deemed worthy of being run as a project.

The types of considerations to take into account during this assessment include:

  • Whether the initiative is client facing and
  • Are there other larger projects dependent upon its successful outcomes?

What’s the cost?

This is probably the easiest measure to both quantify and justify when classifying a project.

Organisations have a finite change budget and the more money they are investing in an initiative the higher the stakes and therefore closer the scrutiny. Typically organisations will set a threshold (say $50K – $100K+) and anything above this will be deemed a project.

Often to allow flexibility and nimbleness during execution organisations will have a sliding scale whereby the greater the costs of the project the more rigid the adherence to the mandated project delivery methodology and governance structures.

When assessing an initiative on the margin against the cost criteria organisations should be mindful of ensuring all potential project costs are captured including the effort of permanent staff and support costs and that the costs are not hidden to keep below a set threshold.

How complex is it?

Initiatives will often fail due to their complexity, particularly if the activities are across multiple areas of the business with multiple interdependencies. The greater the complexity of an initiative the greater the need for sound project disciplines to help ensure project delivery.

Some techniques that can be used to help assess if a project needs to be established is to look at the solution architecture to assess how many systems or processes are impacted or to review the stakeholder matrix to understand the broader business and organisational impacts that may warrant the establishment of a project.

Have we been here before?

When an organisation is doing something for the very first time the initiative will typically benefit from good project disciplines. On the flip side there will be times when an organisation is repeatedly executing similar types of initiatives that due to the delivery becoming part of the organisations DNA they may not need to be run as full-scale projects.

This is a judgement call for the executive but familiarity can and will play a part in deciding when a project should be established.

Solid foundations and frameworks

Whilst the above list is not exhaustive, it should provide a sound foundation to establish a framework to assess projects against. Classifying projects is not an exact science and judgement and experience still need to play a part.

Establishing a solid framework to score initiatives against using some basic criteria is the first step in ensuring all projects that should be run as projects are run as projects.

As project specialists, we develop fit-for-purpose strategy.  Contact us here to find out more about how we work with your teams or call 02 9098 6300.

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Quay Consulting
Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team ...