Project or not - Examples

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Project management book Delft

During my studies at Delft, I had to read a book about project management. I think it started with an example where something new and out-of-the-ordinary had to be done within a company (product the annual reports? Organise a company picknick before summer?). Several folks within that company had an idea about how to go about:

  • Treat it as regular work within a certain department (HR?)
  • Someone will do it ad-hoc somewhere on the side
  • Treat it as a project.

Allocate EANs

A customer once purchased a set of 100,000 free EANs. I manage those in a database. Occasionally, the customer asks me for some of these, e.g. can you give me 61 free EANs?. I've done that between 5 and 20 times over the last couple of years and it's always a bit of a tedious job to do, but it's hardly a project: It's supposed to be routine work and it quite is. It also doesn't require a 'focused effort', eventhough it's a bit of work.

It does however, involve a bit of programming code. So every time I do this, I create a new directory with usually one file in it.

Complicated monthly invoice

Once a month, I produce a rather complicated invoice that contains a lot of separate items. It usually takes about 3 hours to produce it. I've tried outsourcing it, but that didn't work out so far. Some parts of this job are now automated, which saves a bit of time. It's still a tedious job.

This is not a project, but operations:

  • I do it every month - Routine
  • It requires a number of steps, which aren't complicated or require coordination - They are always the same steps
  • It's basically one task
  • Doesn't require coordination with other people
  • I can do it by heart - I don't need to write down stuff to get it done (other than putting the task-as-a-whole in my agenda).

Example: Snowed-in

Maybe a simple example: I usually don't need a 'project' to go to town. However, in January 2023 at our farm in Poland, I wanted to be somehwere at 7:30 in the morning and we were completely snowed-in. So it required some specific actions and resources:

  • A planning (some things needed to be done in the evening and some in the morning)
  • A team that included our neighbours
  • Specific resources, especially our neighbour's tracktor with snowploughs
  • Dedication & focus: It was important that our neighbours helped us the day before, so we could depart at 6:45 the next morning; they would have preferred to help us a day later. One of the things they needed to do, was to 'warm up the engine' (I have no idea what that entails).

Was this a project, or just an ad-hoc activity? I'm inclined to see it as an ad-hoc activity, but it could as well be seen as a project. Personally, I tend to see things as a project when I can't do it by heart anymore. Or more specifically, when I start using a formal planning tool (be it hanging PostIt papers on a board or initiating a Trello board or a project in Notion or whatever). This often seems to me to be the case, when the whole process takes more than one or two days and requires me to put stuff in my agenda.

Example: Cross-sales getting unwieldy?

Since the beginning of 2023, I work with operations and projects. An example of operations is WebShops. An example of a project within WebShops, is FinEUR (finalize a European webshop). Besides this project, there are lots of individual tasks within this operation.

One of these individual tasks is arrange default cross-sale project on all webshops. And a related task is Create default cross-sale project (person X), etc. I find it hard to get started with this: It's too amorphous, messy and new for me. It doesn't help that it consists of multiple tasks that I can't find back in one place (within Notion, I could create a cluster called cross-sales for this). Additionally, I would like to delegate this to someone. Time to turn this into a project? I don't know. Is it big enough for this? Will it last long enough for this? Or just use a cluster? Frankly, that would make it a project already, in a certain way.

There are actually quite some solutions - using TaskAlot 4.0:

  1. A bunch of loose tasks - As it is now
  2. One task with a to-do-list - One of the great advantages of Notion cards
  3. A bunch of loose tasks + cluster for grouping
  4. As a full-fledged project.

Solution (for now): One task with a to-do-list

Maybe it's a sign that I should do something as a project, when I find it hard to get started with someting, because it just feels too ehm, unwieldy?

  • Doesn't have to: I can find it hard to get started with something for many different reasons. Like for not understanding something
  • This is also a trap: I tend to think that when I can't get a grip on something, that when I turn it into a project, it will work out. This is how I easily end up with too many Trello boards → Why do something as a project?#Too much order?
  • Maybe a better criterion, that also applies here: When I can't do it by heart anymore but need to write down stuff.

See also