Are there IT Projects or Construction Projects? We will start with a statement that might shock some people:

We do not believe there are IT or construction projects. Switching the words, IT Projects almost do not exist. Construction Projects do not exist.

We are willing to bet that most readers will be choking or laughing now or think I have lost it. I think I am still sane, so humor me. Let us forget project management and projects for now.

A Human Life Cycle

If you think of a person, a human life cycle, it goes through phases—baby, toddler, teenager, young adult, adult, and so on. We, as humans, spend most of our lives, if we get to live that long, as adults (young adults or something similar). Agree?
If you agree with the above, how do we define a person?

Is ‘an adult’ the definition of a person (human), male or female?
If we say a human is an adult, would that be accurate?

Sure, every adult is a male or female, a human, but not every human is an adult.

Are you still trying to figure it out?

We are saying that adulthood is a phase of the human life cycle but does not define the full life cycle. If we define the human life cycle by the term “an adult,” does that not exclude the early years (pre-adult) and the golden years?

IT Projects, Construction Projects?

Using the same analogy of humans to projects, when we say we have an IT project or a construction project, are we not saying that the IT (development) Phase or the Construction Phase of a given project defines the full project?

In other words, we are taking a “phase” of the project life cycle to define the whole project, and this is not accurate or correct. Sure, it could be semantics.
On the other hand, we do see high failure rates in projects (or less than optimal performance).

There are many reasons and factors that affect project performance. However, from observations and other references, these projects, especially IT projects, do not do well because they are often disconnected from the business and treated like stand-alone projects.

To be clear, we are not blaming failure on this terminology.

Still, we are saying the consequence of this terminology impacts the “practice of managing projects”; it is “affecting performance.”

A root cause of confusion

The above might be one of the root causes for the many myths and confusing points in the project management domain. For example, the confusion between the PMBOK Guide / ISO 21500 process groups and project phases is one of them.

Why do people think the process groups are project phases?

Because they see the IT component (development work) as the full project.

Think about it!

Agilistas push for Agile Project Management is another myth or area of confusion.

For the same reason we already mentioned, they think the development life cycle is the entire project life cycle.
We can go on, but the point is clear.

Organizational Projects

Project Owner Perspective

To answer this, I have to wear the project owner hat. With this hat on,

We are willing to say there are NO IT Projects.

Sure, there are projects with technology components. There are operational, HR, finance, marketing, and capital projects. These projects may include much of the budget allocated to technology / IT. However, ”these are not IT projects; they are business, or I prefer the term “organizational projects.”

Why do I prefer organizational projects over business projects?

Because the organization could be for-profit or not-for-profit, or it could be a government or NGO. Therefore, organizational projects a more comprehensive and include all of the above.

The following image is from one of our books. Here, we show a complete project life cycle (end-to-end) of a “typical” project. This organizational project has an IT component and uses the incremental or iterative approach for the development part (phase). This project could be HR, Marketing, Finance, or any other type.

Construction Projects

Not to pick on IT; a construction project is another “wrong” term. I know PMI has a practice standard for construction projects. I know there is the Construction Industry Institute. In both cases, the term construction refers to organizational projects (often known as capital projects). Yet, they are using the name of a phase to label a project.

Is this a big deal? Maybe, or Maybe not.

To me, words carry with them direct and indirect (subliminal) messages. Further, if we say

‘construction project,’ does that mean we are talking about the whole project (end-to-end) or only the construction phase?

Service Provider Perspective

Some might say, Mounir, are not my IT or construction projects if I work for a construction company or IT service provider? Maybe, or not.

In this case, your company’s business is in IT, construction, or any other domain.

So, providing services to project owners drives your revenues and profit.

In that case, a project owner phase might be your whole project.

Yet, are these business or organizational projects not important to you?

You decide

I never like to force definitions or terms on people or organizations. Organizations are free to label their projects in any way they like. Let’s clarify our communication and project management terminology to avoid using terms that are out of context.

Concluding Comments

I was leading a workshop, and in these workshops, I typically ask people about a “house” project and how they would manage it. Almost always, the answers jump to construction. In other words, we always jump to the construction phase and ignore the earlier phases.
It is the same story when discussing business projects with IT components; people almost always jump to IT and ignore the early phases. It is common for these projects to have NO project manager assigned until we reach IT. Even when the project reaches IT, the real person leading the work might be a technical lead disguised as a PM.
Is it convenient to call these projects IT or Construction?
Sure it is – and organizations can use whatever suits them.

AS LONG AS they understand that to manage these projects effectively, they MUST think of the whole.

The end-to-end project life cycle and not only the ‘development’ part.


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