Project & Product – #PMCampSTR

pmcampstrThe Stuttgart PM-Camp (Hashtag #PMCampSTR) will take place from May, 7th through May, 9th, 2015 at the Stuttgart “Hochschule der Medien” – and I already look forward to being part of it. I bought both the admission and train ticket and made my reservation for the room at the Commundo.

The team in charge of organising the event chose “Project and Product” as their title. This is how the Stuttgart Organizational Team wants to open its PM-Camp for interested persons outside the classical field of project management, for example for IKT (information and communication technologies), as well. Using the term “product”, for instance, they aim at engineers who build high-end products.

What is a project?

Let me cite Wikipedia:

A project is a goal-oriented, one-time proposition consisting of a number of coordinated and controlled activities. It has both a clearly defined beginning and an end and will be realized taking into consideration all necessary restrictions with respect to time, resources (such as money/cost, production and work conditions, employees) and quality in order to attain a goal .[1]

This definition, which in my opinion is a rather simplified view, of “project” means:

  • Every project has a beginning (project start).
  • Every project has an end (deadline for completion).
  • The desired results have been defined as project goals.
  • All resources to be used are pre-defined.
  • The project goal must be attained on time.
  • The planned resources must not be exceeded.
  • There is a plan: the project plan.
  • The milestones defined in the planning are to be adhered to.

As I see it, projects only deserve the name if they cause a considerable change or if they create something really innovative or new. And that tells you at first glance that something is obviously wrong with the above definition.

Regardless of excellent planning, we witness massive deviations from the goal with the resources often being enormously exceeded, even with simple engineering projects. The reason is probably that even tasks that sound simple have a surprising complexity.

Innovative Change!

The situation gets worse if we are talking projects that are supposed to creatively influence all kinds of social systems and the evolution that happens anyway. If you look at the way a project is described, you will realize that the motto “close your eyes and do is hands-on” is something you are basically forced to apply. In the process, you will not be able to integrate new and better findings into the developing project path at all times.

Even in retrospect, it will be hard to judge the causal connections between measures and their effect (usefulness?). So how is anybody supposed to do so in advance? Basically, innovative change is not something you can just plan linearly. Instead, you have to find a soft and agile way to reconcile change and permanent developments.

Consequently, projects are a contradiction to innovation. Innovation is creative destruction. Which is something that will additionally make the enemies of change interested, especially if they are parties concerned with the intended change. That will make it even harder.

Projects as a part of change?

Hence, I find a definition of project more appealing if it considers a project as one of many integrated parts of a continuing process of change and improvement. Controlled change is supposed to generate useful results. Basically, I consider all well-thought-through activities designed to change or influence developments projects. To me, it does not matter if the project is actually “tangible” or if it renders abstract “virtual” results.

What is a product?

The planning, development, and production of a product, as well as its marketing, sales, support and service are the result of many small and bigger projects. They are all multi-dimensionally linked and thus connected to form a multi-dimensional “mega project”. You will want to remember phrases such as network, dynamics, learning, trial and error, innovation… But then, this is not only true for the tangible product, but also for services.

Box product or service?

So a product might be a tangible object – meaning something you can “touch” – which has been developed by an organisation with engineering competence and in huge quantities. It is also “sold” to either many customers or produced individually and “on demand” in small numbers. As a general rule, such products need to be complemented by a support service if they are supposed to be a market success and generate a “sustainable business”.

However, a product may also be a service rendered at the customer’s place or for the customer by persons who acquired special qualifications and “best practice” with their organisation. Those qualifications are usually the result of decades of personal and collective learning.

Creating a “tangible” product might actually necessitate more projects than creating a “virtual” product.

The difference it makes for an entrepreneur.

Sometimes there is a huge difference for the entrepreneur between designing a “true” product enterprise and an enterprise the product of which is offering a special service.

For instance, whenever selling a “true” product, the entrepreneur should keep in mind that feedback from the customers and from the market usually takes a lot longer than if he offers a service. More often than not, you will invest long-term into a “true” product that still has to prove its value on the market. In that sense, such a product is easier to scale in case of success than a service. But then, it also involves a higher risk.

If you sell a service, you will have your feedback rather quickly, which also means that you can learn from mistakes and perhaps change your strategy.

Well, that is about all I can think of when it comes to product and project. Except that projects, basically, are the small modules of our lives. All conscious decisions for behaviour that makes a relevant difference – for yourself or for the market – are in some way projects.

(Translated by EG)

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