Projects have a start & end
A project is finite in time: It has a start and an end.
I've known this for years, but I still don't really understand why this is. Why can't a project keep going indefinately without a clear end?
As an example: Project AcmeFace is a 'project' for one of my customers. It is about developing the user interface for a series of webshops. It's going on for some years now, and there is always new stuff to be done. The operational work is done by one person and we have one Trello board that has been around for years now.
At a closer look:
- Maybe AcmeFace itself isn't really a project, but a category of operational work - How would you call that?
- The cards on the Trello board seem to actually be projects rather than tasks. Since only one person is working on AcmeFace
Example: Building a house vs. living there
- Building a house is a project that starts with making plans and ends the moment that you can move into the house
- Living in the house is not a project
Some differences between projects and continues activities (according to this source):
- Projects have 'no' history or long term future
- Projects deliver change - A new place to live in the example above
- Projects use specific project management techniques - Whatever those me exactly be.
See Area, department & operational work for details.
Some ideas why projects usually are limited in time:
They take resources
A project is a focused endeavour to achieve something, requiring dedicated resources like a team, attention and coordination. There is a limit to how many such activities you want to deploy concurrently - On the other hand, the same counts for operational activities: There too, there is a limit to how many entities you want to have
Maybe projects are just 'natural phenomena' within companies or organisations, that happen to mostly take place within the context of existing structures like departments.
Concerning the earlier example of AcmeFlow: The 'department' or 'organisational context' is Website user interfaces and it has several projects: All rather short-term focused activities to achieve specific results. Actually, some involve different teams, like when an external UX expert is consulted.
The argument that seems most intuitive to me right now: Delivering the envisioned results, doesn't happen by itself. It requires dedication and an organisation taylored to these goals.
Example: A customer wants to get something specific done (e.g., Finalise-de-site). There is budget and there is manpower for doing it. Nevertheless, it doesn't happen by itself. It needs focus, dedication, communication, etc.