Projects are a frequent part of business. They differ from routine activities in that they usually have a narrow focus, specific deadline and may occur only once or infrequently. Some project types recur but differ in their goals. Understanding how projects can improve your ongoing operations helps you integrate them into your company’s culture with optimal results.
Routine business activities are those that take place on a regular basis and are often necessary for the successful ongoing operations of the business. Examples include opening and closing procedures for a retailer; bookkeeping for any company; computer, building and machinery maintenance; ongoing marketing; weekly or bimonthly payroll; and quarterly budget reviews or financial audits. If a company stopped any of these activities, it would likely shut down.
Projects are activities that are helpful to a business or tasks the business needs completed that are performed once or on an irregular basis. Projects can be part of routine business, such as one-time promotions that are part of ongoing marketing strategies. Other examples include creating a new product or service and reviewing and analyzing your existing products or services. As small businesses grow and add employees and managers, they often undertake a project to create formalized organization and company policies and procedures.
A common characteristic of a routine business activity is that it occurs frequently, to the point its execution doesn’t need to be planned and the people doing it don’t need daily instruction, permission or training. Routine business generally doesn’t have an end date because it occurs repeatedly. Many routine activities are necessary to a business; a company can’t continue operation without them.
When deciding whether something should be a project or become a routine part of your business, look at its importance to the business and whether your company can continue without it. If not, make it a project. If the activity is important to the business’s survival, but you don’t need it done immediately, make it a project. Projects have specific goals, start and end dates, benchmarks with deadlines that are used to manage the project, a project manager and a specific group of team members working on them. Each project your company undertakes should have a written plan that details expectations, schedules, costs, team members and the work product or benefit delivered.
Because projects often require special expertise and can take away the focus of your employees who handle routine activities, consider hiring consultants or service firms to handle projects for you. This gives you access to expertise you might not have at your company, while allowing your staff to contribute to the activity.