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What Is Project Management – Characteristics of a Project (#1 in the Hut Introduction to Project Management)
By JISC infoNet

There are many definitions of what constitutes a project such as ‘a unique set of co-ordinated activities, with definite starting and finishing points, undertaken by an individual or team to meet specific objectives within defined time, cost and performance parameters’.1

We are all aware that our organisations undertake projects and, rather than debate the merits of different definitions, it is perhaps more helpful to look at a few of the characteristics that make projects different from other work. Projects are usually characterised by being:

  • Instruments of change
  • Non-routine
  • Unique
  • Composed of inter-dependent activities
  • Carried out by people who don’t normally work together
  • Temporary with defined start and end dates
  • Intended to achieve a specific outcome
  • Frequently risky and involving uncertainties

There is no magic formula for ensuring that a project is successful, but there are well proven techniques available to help plan and manage projects. No one need feel daunted at taking on their first project – project management is not a ‘black art’, nor does it need to be a minefield of jargon and bureaucracy. Most of project management is plain, common sense and a lot of what we describe is simply a structured approach to what you would do instinctively. Project management gives you a framework – at certain points it prompts you to take a step back and think ‘have I done this?’, ‘have I considered that?’, ‘do I understand this fully?’, ‘what will we do should “x” happen?’, ‘how should I deal with this?’

There are many formal project management methodologies that combine a framework or approach with a set of project tools and guidelines. Some are ‘proprietary’ approaches developed by consulting firms and software houses whilst others are in the public domain. They vary in scale and complexity but all are based around a small core of common sense principles.

A methodology that is commonly used in the public sector and forms the basis of this infoKit is PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments). PRINCE2 is a very comprehensive methodology that can be applied to projects no matter how large and complex.

It must be stressed that the methodology is a framework and nothing more. It is a tried and tested, structured approach that will give you a sound basis for running a successful project. It is not, however, a substitute for creativity. Projects are always unique; they necessarily involve uncertainty and risk and they will require all your flexibility and ingenuity if they are to succeed. That’s what’s exciting about managing a project!

1 Office of Government Commerce – UK.

JISC infoNet aims to be the UK’s leading advisory service for managers in the post-compulsory education sector promoting the effective strategic planning, implementation and management of information and learning technology.

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