4 March 2010

Why projects are unimportant

I have been working in a project based environment for all of my working life (and I've got formal qualifications in project management) so it was bit of a surprise when, during a conversation with a colleague this afternoon, the revelation came that projects are pretty unimportant.

A project is just that little bit of work that sits between the long past when things were broken and the long future when they are fixed. It's a thin layer in a thick sandwich so has little impact overall.

A holiday metaphor may help to explain this.

We work for months on end getting tired, bored, frustrated and taken for granted. The solution is a good holiday, say two weeks on a sunny beach in the Caribbean. The project is the journey that takes us away from our home and to our holiday.

Of course it is important that the journey gets us to the holiday but within that broad definition of success there is much that can go wrong that, in the end does not really matter. The journey is going to be painful anyway, nobody likes spending time in airports, and it is not a material difference if the flight is delayed for a few hours or even if we end up in a different hotel from the one we booked.

The trial and tribulations of the journey are soon forgotten and we set about enjoying the holiday that we planned. By the end of the holiday the poor journey there is immaterial and our talk is of the fantastic days spent hugging the beach bar, paragliding or snorkeling with colourful fish.

And it's the same with projects. They are a necessary evil to get you to where you want to go but you do not need to be too precise about how or when you get there, or even on where there is.

The focus should always be on making the most of being there, not on getting there.

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