Are there IT projects or construction projects?

Do you think there are IT Projects or Construction Projects? We will start with a statement that might shock some people, we do not think there are IT projects or construction projects. Switching the words, IT Projects do not exist, almost. Construction Projects do not exist, almost.

We are willing to bet that the majority of readers will be choking or laughing now, or think I have lost it. Maybe, but I think I am still sane so humor me.

Let us forget project management and projects for now.

A Human Life Cycle

If you think of a person, a human life cycle, it goes through phases. Baby, toddler, teenager, young adult, adult, and so on. We as human, spend most of our lives if we get to live that long, as adults (young adult or something similar). Agree?

If you agree with the above, then how we define a person?

Is ‘an adult’, the definition of a person (human), male or female?

If we say a human is an adult, would that be accurate?

Sure every adult is a male or female, a human but not every human is an adult.

Confused yet?

What we are saying is the following: adulthood is a phase of the human life cycle but does not define the full life cycle. If we define the human life cycle by the term “an adult” does not that exclude the early years or the golden years?

IT Projects, Construction Projects?

Using the same analogy of human to projects, when we say we have an IT project or a construction project are not we saying that the IT (development) Phase or the Construction Phase of a given project define the full project? In other words, we are taking a “phase” of the project life cycle to define the whole project and this is not accurate or correct.

Sure, maybe it is semantics.

On the other hands, we do see high failure rates in projects (or less than optimal performance). There are many reasons and factors that affect project performance. However, from observations and other references, we are willing to say that these projects, especially IT projects, do not do well because they are often disconnected from the business and treated like stand-alone projects. Just to be absolutely clear, we are not blaming failure on this nomenclature but we are saying the consequence of this nomenclature impact the “practice of managing projects”, which in turn affect performance.

Maybe a root cause of confusion?

The above might be one of the root causes for the many myths and confusing points in the project management domain. For example, the confusion between the PMBOK Guide / ISO 21500 process groups and project phases is one of them. Why do people think the process groups are project phases? Because they see the IT component (development work) as the full project. Think about it.

The Agilistas push for Agile Project Management is another myth or area of confusion. For the same reason that we already mentioned, they think the development life cycle is the full project life cycle.

We can go on but we think the point is clear.

Organizational Projects

Project Owner Perspective

To answer this, I have to wear the project owner hat. With this hat on, we are willing to say there are NO IT Projects. Sure, there are projects with technology components. There are operational, HR, finance, marketing, and even capital projects. These projects may include a large percent of the budget allocated to technology / IT. However, these are not IT projects, they are business, or I prefer the term “organizational projects.”

Why I prefer organizational projects over business projects? Because the organization could be for-profit or not-for-profit, government or NGO. Therefore, organizational projects is a more comprehensive term and include all of the above.

The following image is from our recent book. Here we show a complete project life cycle (end-to-end) of a “typical” project. This organizational project has an IT component and is using incremental or iterative approach for the development part (phase). This project could be HR, Marketing, Finance or any other type.

CAMMP Project Life Cycle incorporating Incremental Development (IT projects)

Construction Projects

Not to pick on IT, a construction project is another “wrong” term. I know, PMI has a practice standard for construction projects. I know there is the Construction Industry Institute. In both cases, the term construction is used to refer to organizational projects (often also known as capital projects). Yet, they are using the name of a phase to label a project.

Sample project life cycle for a capital project (construction project)

Is this a big deal?

Maybe, or Maybe not.

To me, I believe words carry with them direct and indirect (subliminal) messages. Further, if we say ‘construction project’, does that mean we talking about the whole project (end-to-end) or only the construction phase?

Service Provider Perspective

Now, some might say, Mounir, if I work for a construction company or IT service provider, are not my projects IT or construction projects?

Maybe, or maybe not.

In this case, your company business is IT or construction, or any other domain for that matters. So, your revenues and profit are driven by providing services to project owners. In that case, a project owner phase might be your whole project.

Yet, are not these business or organizational projects to you?

You decide

I never like to force definitions or terms on people or organizations. Organizations are free to label their projects in any way they like. All that I am saying, is that let us be clear in our communication and project management terminology, so we do not use terms out of context.

Concluding Comments

Just today, I was leading a workshop, and in these workshops, I typically ask people about a “house” project and how would they manage such a project. Almost always, the answers jump to construction. In other words, we always jump to the construction phase and ignore all of the earlier phases.

The same story when we talk about business projects with IT components, people almost always jump to IT and ignore the early phases. It is also quite common that for these projects there is NO project manager assigned until we reach IT. Even when the project reaches IT, the real person leading the work might be a technical lead disguised as a PM.

Is it convenient to call these projects IT or Construction?

Sure it is – and of course, organizations can use whatever suits them. AS LONG AS they understand that to effectively manage these projects, they MUST think of the whole. The end-to-end project life cycle and not only the ‘development’ part.

What do you think?