OK, so what is a project?

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The books tell us that a project delivers a product, a service or a change of state. But what does this actually mean?

A product is easy enough and there are plenty of examples. If a business moves its office from one place to another and this means that new furniture has to be purchased, then bringing it to the new office location could be a deliverable of the office moving project. You can check that the item was received in the right place and tick off this deliverable on your list.

Or we can take an example from outside work, where we invite friends to dinner. The food and drink, carefully prepared and brought to the table and laid out so that our friends know that they were expected, could also be considered to be a deliverable. The product is all the food nicely prepared and brought to the table, particularly if arranged by a catering company.

The second category of project delivers a service. This is not as tangible as a project but is very common in business. Consider for example an insurance company which offers an existing car insurance product which is available to anyone over the age of 25 years. After some market research, it is decided that this service should be extended to cover anyone at least 18 years old, so the work involved in the project is to do everything that is needed to extend the insurance offer to this broader age group. For example, we need new publicity, we need to calculate new prices and the conditions need to be changed and agreed with the various business interests, as well as training for the employees and so on. When everything is ready, the new service is rolled out as a package. If somebody between 18 and 25 walks into an insurance company, the insurance is available to them, in other words, a new service has been delivered, most likely by using a project approach.

But what about a change of state, what does this mean?

Anyone who has worked in the factory will be familiar with testing of products before they are shipped out. They will probably be kept kept in one space until ready for testing, then moved to another space after testing. The products look the same but because they are kept in the storage space for tested products, they can be shipped and therefore have more value.

What has changed is the state. At the beginning each product was untested, and now it has been tested so there has been a change of state.

Another example of a change of state is a training program. Typically we have so many people who come to the training whose knowledge is at a certain level. When they leave the training, hopefully they will have a higher level of knowledge. This improvement is a change of state. The organising of the training might be done on a project basis and the change of state considered to be a deliverable.

But there is another example which I often hear when delivering workshops and that is a wedding. A wedding delivers a number of different things, for example an opportunity to invite friends and relations and to enjoy the event together and this could be considered a type of service, particularly if organised by a hotel. It’s not the type of deliverable which is an item which you can hand over, but when the visitors go home satisfied, they have had a service delivery.

But a key part of a wedding is the very public and formal recording of the change of status of two individuals to one couple. Quite apart from their satisfaction of planning their lives together, there is a very strong legal change of status which happens in this situation. In many countries, if one of a married couple dies, what they owned passes to the other person automatically, which does not happen if they were not married.

So we have three types of project deliverables. The first example was furniture being delivered, a meal being delivered or some other item that can be handed over.

Then we looked at services, for example extending an existing insurance offering so that it covers people of a younger age group. When the extended service is ready to be offered, then that’s the end of the project that was used to develop and introduce the service.

Or the hotel guests at the wedding get a service, including not just the food but the delivery in a pleasant atmosphere, hopefully leaving satisfied.

Then the third category is the change of state where we looked at two examples: testing of material in a factory before it shipped. The product is the same but the fact that it has been tested is a change of state.

And the other example we had was the legal side of a wedding because it has a big impact on many aspects of life, for example inheritance.