Is it a project, programme or business as usual?

Is it a project, programme or business as usual?

So what is the difference between projects, programmes or business as usual. Stuart Copeland gives his definitions here:-

 A Project

PRINCE2TM defines a project as “a temporary organisation that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed Business Case”.

For example, the business product could be a new building, an upgraded computer system or a staff reorganisation.

Projects, in themselves, rarely deliver business change but they do deliver the capability to facilitate business change. They are, by definition, short-term activities and, therefore, do not necessitate wholesale changes in the organisation. Sometimes, you may need to experience short-term pain but longer term gain.

PM with tickllist

Project manager with ticklist

The project could be disruptive for a short period of time and there may be a level of upset in the business which needs to be managed. For example, you might be refurbishing part of a building which means you lose parking spaces, rest areas and so on which inconveniences staff and affects their ability to work.

Equally, there are occasions when a project needs to be delivered really quickly and you may have to pick up the pieces afterwards. For example, you may have won a new customer what you need to introduce a process change very quickly. This could mean asking people to help who are currently focused on other parts of the business.

This disruption can be managed provided you understand the impacts of the project before it starts. In the first example, you could focus on a communication strategy to ensure your staff so the big picture and the future benefits. In the second example you might want to look at how to incentivise staff working on the new process.


A Programme

Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®) defines a programme as “a temporary, flexible organisation created to coordinate, direct and oversee the implementation of a set of related projects and activities to deliver outcomes and benefits related to the organisation’s strategic objectives.”

For example, the outcome could be a new service operation that moves the company into a new market, created from the items above – a building, computer system and new organisational structure.

Programmes are designed to deliver business change. Programmes are temporary in the same way that projects are, however, their duration is typically longer. They should deliver their business change in a structured, calm and planned way, even if the individual projects could be disruptive as described above. But the impacts of those projects will be managed within the programme.

Let’s say that the two example projects above were contained in a programme alongside new systems and they small reorganisation of the customer service team. In this case, you would be looking at the communication strategy or the whole business on the beginning of the programme. It would contain the vision for the future, a clear view of what facilities and processes would be in place in the programme was complete and a statement of how this would benefit the business and its people.


Business as Usual

This is the organisation’s day job comprising all of its people, processes, systems and facilities. Projects and programmes move the day job from one level of performance to a higher level.

The reason for defining business as usual is to distinguish the improvements and changes that happen every day in the operational environment from those larger changes brought about by projects and programmes. That’s not to say that some of the disciplines from great projects cannot be used in this environment.


Why Does it Matter?

Both projects and programmes are temporary and do need to close down when their job is done, as distinct from ‘BAU’. Making the distinction between a project and programme before starting out on any business change helps with clarity right at the beginning and with identifying the types of resources required.

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