This post completes points introduced on August 14, 2010
They might call something a project when it's really not.
Or something might not be called a project when it really is.
And sometimes some part of something you're working on can suddenly turn out to be a lot more than you bargained for.
So, one thing is a pretty good bet: Developing sound project management skills can be a fine career builder, no matter the industry. It begins with awareness, identifying what's a project and what isn't. Understanding when and how to use project management practices. Knowing what will persuade your managers and co-workers to collaborate.
None of us needs to mess up in the workplace. We don't want to come up short in handling an assignment, nor do we want to suffer the reputation damage that comes from wasting people's time, misinforming them or overburdening them.
So the project manager must know exactly what the situation is, and be able to articulate the early-on requirements persuasively. The grip of everyday rhythms is powerful, and the workplace presumption generally is that there's no need to innovate and risk-manage. Therefore, if something isn't business as usual, you'd better know how to make the case for extraordinary measures – beginning at the beginning.
For working purposes, there is just one answer to the question “When is it a project?” The answer is, “It's ALWAYS a project,” at least to the professional project manager.
This doesn't mean you're constantly stopping everything to inflict a full boat of project management tools, discussions and practices on a busy group of people.
It does mean you remain alert. You don't get blindsided because you recognize complexity when it arises in a flow of routine. You track down dependency when the situation includes it, rather than being surprised that you should have consulted someone weeks ago, or should have arranged a connection before the need for it became obvious. You engage risk directly and confidently rather than looking the other way and hoping it won't bite – because it will.
When you live a project management way of life, you know how to examine a situation quickly and determine what is business as usual and what isn't. Ordinary events and activities are seen for what they are, and are tuned for continuous improvement. Extraordinary needs are identified in a timely fashion, and get the appropriate measure of attention.
A hallmark of mismanagement is the repetitive failure to detect and manage variances from what is expected.
Another is systematic shortfall in communication. Some of that is in not providing adequate information, some is in deafness to incoming signals and some is in blindness to obvious problems.
Over-all, mismanagement refuses to take responsibility for establishing effective processes and making them work.
The competent project manager excels in exactly those areas. For anyone who is a project manager, or aspires to be one, any workplace offers frequent opportunities to apply the project management cast of mind. If you want to be the go-to person, the one who solves problems and makes things happen, you do the Nike thing: You just do it.
When it's always a project, you're always on top of it.