What are the three key characteristics of a project?

While no two projects are identical, there are three key characteristics that all projects possess. These three characteristics must always be considered when making a decision within a project and also provide constraints to the delivery of the objective.

The three key project characteristics are:

  • Time
  • Scope
  • Budget

Time (sometimes known as timeframe or schedule): This refers to how long the project will take, and generally involves using past experience to predicate the likely time that parts of a project will take. The scheduling involved in a project shows what should happen when and there are usually parts that can’t occur until preceding parts are complete. Using the previous kitchen renovation example, you can’t compare quotes until you have them and you can’t be given quotes until the kitchen company knows what they are quoting for.

Scope: Scope refers to what is included within the project and what is excluded. This is where you will establish if re-plumbing the kitchen is in scope, if installing new whiteware such as a fridge or dishwasher is in scope, or if replacing the kitchen floor is in scope. The clearer the scope, the easier for ambiguity to be reduced and risks minimised.

Cost (also known as budget): The budget or cost of the project sets out your expectation as to how much the project will cost. In my previous experience with CRM systems, the vendor will provide a quote based on the number of hours it will take to develop a given feature. With the kitchen example, it might be a couple of figures composed of the physical cost of the kitchen alongside the labour cost of the install.

Together these three aspects create what is known as the Project Management Triangle, and any change to one of the characteristics will result in a change to at least one of the others.

Source: Wikipedia, John Manual Kennedy

An example of such a change could be that you need the kitchen installed by a certain date e.g. two weeks earlier. The kitchen company agrees that can be done but says it will cost you an extra 50% in labour costs and you will need to decide if that is acceptable for you.

Likewise, the quoted price for a new kitchen may be too high. The company may be able to bring the price down by lowering the scope and ditching some of the jewel encrusted taps and gold leaf bench tops.

Finally, if you want to change the project scope, for instance add French doors to your kitchen, it’s going to either bump up the price or add time to the finish date, or most likely both.

Another important characteristic of a project is that a project is temporary. While some projects may run for years and years, they do have a set goal in mind which, when completed, will mean the project is over. Often these projects will end and then a new project will start which picks up from where the previous project ended. With new CRM/database systems, once they have been delivered, there are usually many smaller subsequent updates which form part of a new project or projects.

One sign of a poorly managed project could be that the project structure continues to operate for quite some time after the project has been delivered. Of course, learning that a project is poorly managed is something we would rather know sooner than later!

For a project to be managed well, a clearly defined end point is a must.


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