Project classifications

General project management makes project classification hard. Why? Inherent attributes of a project makes it so. Projects are unique, temporary, finite and time bound. Projects across the industry are much the same. These attributes often makes project classification a daunting task. But it is a necessary step in order to adopt a project management style for projects.

One important classification exists based on the method and goal definitions of a project. Do you know what you want to achieve and do you know the way to carryout the process, step by step? Are there projects that doesn’t have clear goals?

Let’s take a look at a movie production, a reference project. Ways of directing and shooting are already established but the overall goal is not necessarily set. This is verifiable as lots of movies undergo screenplay revision during production and even more editing post production. The goal is not set, and subject to change. Writing a novel, making a painting are some examples that are plagued by this trait

Its relatively easy to understand that there are projects where the method of doing it is not well established. Most research projects show this trait. Project attributes such as unique nature of projects also contribute to this factor. Going into the grey, project teams adopt, revise and abandon methods continuously until the right way of doing it is found.

These two project types are illustrated below

project types

Work method definition vs goal definition

Type 1 projects are easy to understand, ‘paint by numbers‘ type of projects that usually arises in manufacturing and construction. This is the most favorable type of project to have because of the higher chance of success, but one could argue that it involves little innovation. A common tactic to these projects are to move quickly into planning of the project

Type 2 projects have goals defined clearly but work methods are not so clear. Also known as ‘Quest‘ projects, new products always fall into this category. Innovation is high in these type of projects. Determining methods to achieve goal and going into a trial and error phase is a way to deal with these projects

Type 3 projects are those projects where the goals are not defined but ways of doing them are. Also known as ‘Movie/IT‘ projects, almost all screen plays and IT projects can be categorized in this area. The scope is undetermined and difficult to understand in these projects. Use of stage milestones to divide the project into stages is often a tactic used in these projects. This website is a project that could be neatly categorized into this category

Type 4 are the least favorable, due to high chance of failure, but they are also the most critical and have most life changing impact. Also known as ‘Fog‘ projects, project teams have to wander blind for a while, all the while having to balance a limited and often depleting budget.

Simpler classification

More simpler classifications than the model presented above, exists. Based on the delivered product, projects can be classified as ‘soft‘ or ‘hard‘ projects, a common theme that arises in project management.

Soft projects have no clear goals, success is measured qualitatively, and is a more tedious and collaborative effort with greater stakeholder interaction.

Hard projects have clear well defined goals, success is measure quantitatively and often team members are not participative because they entitled experts.

This classification is based on the goal definition of projects. How about a classification based on work methods?

Classification based on uniqueness

For some organizations, some projects are virtually routine processes, that is very hard to differentiate from operations. Work methods are related to the uniqueness of projects, with more unique projects requiring more work method definitions. Repeaters are virtually routine processing of projects with small changes to parameters. Runners are quite similar to previous projects. Strangers are different  from previous projects with some unique elements. Aliens are completely different from anything done previously.

Classification based on failure

On a more somber note, projects can also be classified based on how they fail.

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