Does your organization treat projects differently from business as usual? If so, how? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below.


Hello and welcome to the first in a series of Project Management Whiteboard videos. In this first video we’re going to look at ‘What is a project?’ In order to answer this question, I’d like us to compare the characteristics of the work that we might call “Business as usual” with the work that forms part of a project.

If you have worked on projects (which most people have had the opportunity to do), you will probably say that the work that you did was a “one off”. Perhaps it was something unique and you had never done it before. Whereas, the work that you do as “business as usual” is very “day-to-day”. It might be mundane, a little bit boring and it’s certainly repetitive. You might come into work one morning, check your email, take some calls, speak to some customers, speak with colleagues to organise things, check that things have happened – that kind of thing. So a lot of day-to-day repetitive work happens as “business as usual” and if this work didn’t take place, then the business could not function anymore.

Usually (or to a large extent) the work that happens as part of “business as usual” is part of the operational work that takes place in an organisation. Compare this to project work, which is all about designing, building and delivering “things”. These “things” might be IT systems or new products and they could be in any shape or form.

If you work as part of “business as usual” then you will mostly report to a line manager. At the end of the week, you might send a report by email or have a quick meeting with your line manager to explain the accomplishments of the week. However if you work on projects, you will report ultimately to a project manager. You might do this via a team manager or team leader, but ultimately you are taking direction from a project manager.

The work that you do as part of “business as usual” is on-going. However, the work that happens as part of a project has both a start time and an end time, so there is a schedule which we need to manage.

A really important aspect we need to understand about projects is that they bring change into “business as usual”. This is because a project is going to be delivering something which at the end of the project, we hand back to the people who do the “business as usual” activities.

I’ll give you an example from the UK:

There is a major supermarket chain that has just announced that it is going to provide the ability for it’s customers to order goods online and to pick them up from their local grocery store. This new service is what is being delivered from the project, and it’s being delivered back into “business as usual”. In other words, the people who perform “business as usual” will operate this new service by making sure there is enough stock, and that the customers’ orders are delivered to the local store. The other activities that “business as usual” will be doing include keeping the shops open, employing with the correct staff, managing the staff, ordering the goods, keeping the IT systems running, paying the supplier and doing the financial matters.

So it’s really important to remember that projects will be passing “deliverables” back into “business as usual” and it’s by using these “deliverables” that the “business as usual” will realize benefits for the organisation. Those benefits are often measured financially, but if you are working for the health service for example, you might be measuring benefits in the form of improvements in patient care. Usually for commercial organisations, benefits are measured in the form of money. This enables the organisation to decide if the project is a worthwhile investment because when we make a decision to run a project, we need to understand the risks and costs versus the benefits.

You’ll see the last point here is about risk. It’s true to say that projects are more risky than “business as usual” for a very simple reason. We may have never done the project work before, We’re often doing things that we have no knowledge of and often walking a little in the dark. Whereas the every-day work that we’ve done for the business for the last 10-20 years, we have a lot of familiarity with. Therefore we have minimised risk over a period of time by revising procedures and policies within the organisation.

Hopefully this has helped you understand what a project is and how it differs from “business as usual”. If you think that you need more skills or assistance in helping you to plan, manage and keep control over your projects, then you might benefit from project management training.

This if the first in our series of Project Management Whiteboards and I look forward to seeing you in our next video!