“The perfect is the enemy of the good.” – Voltaire
When managing projects, it may help to remember that you are doing something at odds with most business practices and upsetting to many people. Projects are temporary and create something new. Most businesses are ongoing operations which recreate the same things. Because projects create something new, they are all at some level about change. Change is hard, feared and resisted.
Where operations do the same things over and over, projects do something unique. Where operations are intended to be ongoing, projects are intended to end. As operations and projects are fundamentally different, it should be apparent that the organizations, methods and mind sets best suited for operations are not the best for projects.
People, as individuals, are not central to operations. Operations are procedure-centric. They improve and refine their procedures to the point where who follows them has little impact on the quality or quantity of what is produced. Operations take advantage of the predictability inherent in repetition to insure a consistent product.
Procedures, which rely on repetition, are less useful for projects. Projects, which are always doing something new, rely on people. Projects are people-centric. Projects rely on contributions from people as individuals to create something new. Change comes from people, not procedures.
Businesses often forgo change until forced to change in order to compete in a changing and competitive world. When forced to change, projects are the instruments which implement that change. There are different types of change and different types of projects.
Projects types range from the evolutionary to the revolutionary. At one end of the range are evolutionary projects which implement incremental change, something that is very similar to what has been done before or is being done in other organizations. At the other end are truly revolutionary projects, those which seek to do something that has never been done before. The more revolutionary the project, the less predictable and less operations-like it is.
Most projects are evolutionary. When people can work in the same departments, for the same bosses, with the same people, and do nearly the same work they have done for operations, projects are neat, predictable and unthreatening. Operations are most likely to undertake evolutionary projects. These are well-suited to operations’ organizations, mind sets and experiences. When change is allowed, it is usually kept to a minimum.
Real change, revolutionary change, is hard on operations. Revolutionary change requires imagination, a willingness to take risks and an organization that allows things to be done differently. Doing things the same way (but expecting different results) does not bring change. Despite this, many operations will attempt to conduct revolutionary projects as if they are just a different type of operation.
Projects only succeed if they have the right resources. These include leadership, flexibility and determination. An organization that cannot provide these resources cannot change as it needs to. It cannot evolve. Organization that cannot evolve become extinct. Change is not only hard, it is necessary.