A project is a set of interconnected tasks intended to achieve a specific goal. It is characterized by having a fixed end. Projects can be either individual or collaborative in nature. They are often limited by some constraint, usually cost.
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The practice of running a project is known as project management. Different versions of project management methods exist, but they generally break a project into 5 phases. They tend to loosely follow this breakdown:
Initiation or conception. This is the vetting process of deciding if the project should be done. It is typically a cost/benefit type of analysis and may compare several options.
Project planning. This phase involves defining the project, setting goals, creating the plan, and forming a team.
Project launch. The beginning of the project involves setting responsibilities of the team, gathering resources, and all the other tasks to transition from a plan on paper to having the ability to start on the tasks.
Controlling/performance/monitoring. This phase of the project is characterized by the actual completion of the work.
Wrap-up/Close/completion. The last phase is the project close. It should include an assessment of the project and an evaluation of the process.
Projects are relevant to continuous improvement for two main reasons. The first is that improvement efforts tend to be project based. When an opportunity to get better is uncovered, it is addressed by a project. Some projects may be of very small scope and scale, but even the most basic on-the-spot daily improvement is still a project. The better a person is at managing projects, the more successful improvements will tend to be.
The second way continuous improvement and projects connect is that you can use your CI skills to improve the processes associated with project management. The more streamlined the administrative side of projects are, the more effort can be spent on completing the actual tasks rather than managing them. This will make improvement projects more effective, but the principles apply to any projects. The engineering team can apply continuous improvement to their new product development process, which is essentially a project management process. Marketing can improve how they run promotions (discrete projects). In a nutshell, the better a person is at continuous improvement, the more successful their projects will be.