Why do organisations initiate a project for every new task today?
I was asked this question in a round table session by a journalist of the Harvard Business Manager. I like these rounds with people from outside our profession because they ask questions we never actually ask ourselves. So: why do organisations start a project for every task nowadays?
The answer contains various aspects: first, there is no consistent use of the term “project” in organisations. When do we start talking about a project? In one organisation, it depends on the duration, e.g. minimum of four weeks. The other organisation depends on the number of employees involved, e.g. a minimum of three people. In the next organisation, it relies on the uniqueness of the scope, e.g. to quickly build up a vaccination centre for a capacity of 5.000 people every day.
In addition, I observed that an assignment called a “project” sounds more attractive for many particularly young people, giving them more individual responsibility than just a regular “task”. Bosses know this and frequently use the term “project” to motivate their employees, even if the assignment is just a common task.
However, I think there are also deeper reasons for the increase of projects in organisations nowadays. The third explanation for the phenomenon is that the amount of routine work is steadily decreasing due to the ongoing standardisation, automatisation and digitalisation of the standard processes and the linework in all departments, from HR to production, sales and logistics. Consequently, there is more capacity left in the organisations for project work.
The reason is that products and systems created once and successfully in the market need to be further developed. My thesis is: Success leads to follow-up projects or project sequences. Apple must develop a new iPhone every year as this product generates 58% of the turnover of the whole company. After one year, the current model’s sales stagnate, and it can only be sold with massive price reductions. The organisation urgently needs a successor model with innovations that will hopefully be as successful as the predecessor model. The success of the previous products forces the organisation to create another successful outcome. Because the production facilities built up in the prior model need to be utilised, R&D employees need new challenges, marketing and sales need something new to the market, logistics needs to use their complex IT systems. Projects are the engine to keep the organisation running and growing in the best case. Without projects, an organisation stands still, and a standstill means backlog.
And finally, the fifth argument is: Projects create the future. Projects are the vehicles of transformation and change. A strategy alone is worthless if there is no project undertaken to implement the idea into something real: either a sustainable new product, a new app, a new website, an innovative customer service, the acquisition of another company, a new IT system, another office building, a new marketing campaign, new supply chain processes or the implementation of new work. The creation of any innovation is based on projects. Every corporate strategy needs projects, a program, or a portfolio to realise and implement.
From our research studies on the projectification of national economies, we know that the share of project activity correlates significantly with the organisation’s innovation success. Companies with a high level of innovation success show an above-average share of project activity. Or with other words: less successful companies do less apply project management.
Therefore, we can conclude that if an organisation aims for innovation and competitiveness, they have to implement project management. No future success without projects! More and more executives understand this and implement project management in their organisations. It is the reason why we see this rapid increase of projects worldwide.
But the initiation of projects alone is no guarantee for the success of the projects. To be successful projects need well-educated and continuously trained project managers. Our 71 IPMA member associations support people and organisations all over the world to build up the relevant competences to manage their projects successfully, based on our six international competence baselines, our hundreds training and education partners worldwide and our 54 national certification bodies.
Yvonne Schoper, 09. February 2022
Dr. Yvonne Schoper is Professor for International Project Management at HTW University of Applied Sciences Berlin.
Dr. Schoper holds a BSc in Engineering Management, an MSc International Business and a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering.
She worked as a project manager for BMW where she was responsible for several international automotive development projects in USA and in Germany.
Since 2009 she is associate Professor for Project Management at the Tongji University in Shanghai (China).
Her research interests are intercultural project management, future trends in project management, women in project management and the further development of the profession of project managers.
From 2012-2015 she was Executive Board member of GPM Germany where she was responsible for research. Since 2015 she is the delegate of Germany at IPMA´s Council of Delegates. Since 2016 she is member of the Presidential Advisory Board of GPM.
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