What is a Project?
It’s funny how something that should be self-evident is not, and something that should be simple is surprisingly complex.
For example, scan through the project list contained in any California school district’s bond measure. By law, bond measures approved by a 55% vote must list their projects. Pick a project.
Now go to the district’s Bond Oversight Committee website. By law, they must also have both an oversight committee responsible for ensuring that bond money is spent only on projects listed in the bond and a website that posts all reports submitted to the oversight committee. Now find the project you picked above on the website.
That should be simple and self-evident, right? Was it? The core issue here is the question I started with: What is a project?
Let’s say a Project Manager is given the task of renovating an entire school site based on a bond project list consisting of twenty-five needed items. Let’s also say that the PM accomplished that task over 3 years:
So was this one project, three projects, eight projects, or twenty-five projects?
Project Managers tend to define projects based on the most convenient way to efficiently manage a task that has a distinct start and end. The underground infrastructure was upgraded and put into use; the library and cafeteria were built and put into use; the lunch shelter was built and put into use; interim classrooms were installed; each group of classrooms had distinct move-out and move-in dates; and interim classrooms were removed. Eight projects.
District accountants have a different view. They’re really irritated that the above “New Lunch Shelters at Seven Schools” project was not broken out so they could properly account for the new capital assets by school site. They have to jimmy their books; there should have been seven separate projects. And they have to do more scrambling when they realize that the design costs and cost of the two interim classroom projects should have been spread across five different projects as defined by the Project Manager.
Meanwhile, the Oversight Committee is doing a walk-through, trying to ensure that only the twenty-five listed items were worked on. They discover that there were changes to building entrances and walkways that were not listed in the bond.
The building entrances and walkways were required and paid for by a State School Building Grant. Luckily, the bond states that State School Building funds were needed to complete listed projects. The Oversight Committee is happy. However, the State reporting requirements call for an annual expenditure report for the single “Modernization Project” they provided a grant for. The accountants are scrambling again.
Given their preferences, each of the above entities (Project Managers, Accountants, Oversight Committees, and the State) would each define these sample school projects differently.
So how do I define a project? Well… it depends.