How your project fits into the big picture

You’d think managing a project would be a fairly straightforward process: identify the project’s tasks, assign some people to do the work, figure out when things need to get done, and find where the money is coming from to pay for it all. Simple, right?

But what do you say when your supervisor asks you what the business objectives are for the portfolio (portfolio: A list of projects within an organization that may share common management of scope, budget, or resources.) containing your project, or whether your project’s deliverable (deliverable: A tangible and measurable result, outcome, or item that must be produced to complete a project or part of a project. Typically, the project team and project stakeholders agree on project deliverables before the project begins.) is a product or a result? Yikes.

Rather than having that deer-in-the-headlights look come over you, this article can help you get to know these terms so you can have some snappy answers handy. And in the process, you can answer that burning question: what is a project, anyway?

In this article


Getting your bearings: phases, processes, portfolios, and products

A project is simply a set of activities that occur according to a schedule, and that produce some kind of output. Some projects stand alone, with no relationship to other work going on in an organization. On the other hand, some projects are part of larger efforts, like phases (phase: A group of related tasks that completes a major step in a project.), processes, programs, and portfolios (portfolio: A list of projects within an organization that may share common management of scope, budget, or resources.).

Phases

Projects can be scheduled in phases, so that several projects relating to the same goal can be managed together. For example, a charitable organization has a fundraiser function every year. To manage all of the projects associated with the function, they group the projects into three phases: Planning, Event Day, and Follow-Up. Each phase contains multiple projects.

Phase Projects Phase Output
Planning
  • Reserve facilities
  • Identify and arrange for guest speakers
  • Invite attendees
Completed event plan document
Event Day
  • Set up facility
  • Assist guest speaker
  • Provide attendee services
Event runs as planned
Follow-Up
  • Survey attendees
  • Compile follow-up notes
Completed post-mortem document

Processes

The activities in two different projects may be interrelated to form a process. For example, let's say you have two projects: one contains the activities necessary to produce a call center ticketing system, and the other project contains the activities necessary to hire and train support staff for a call center.

Project 1 Project 2

Activities:

  • Develop ticketing system
  • Test ticketing system
  • Release ticketing system

Activities:

  • Interview support staff
  • Hire support staff
  • Train support staff
Output:
Call center ticketing system
Output:
Call center support staff

The combined set of activities from the two projects form a process for setting up a call center. The process has an output of a fully functioning call center.

Process

Project 1 activities:

  • Develop ticketing system
  • Test ticketing system
  • Release ticketing system

Project 2 activities:

  • Interview support staff
  • Hire support staff
  • Train support staff
Process output:
Fully functioning call center

Programs

A program is a group of projects that are managed together, to make the most of their interrelated status. For example, a construction company that is working on a new subdivision manages each house in the subdivision as a separate project. By grouping the projects into a program for the entire subdivision, the company can easily see the progress of the subdivision as a whole, and plan for bringing in third-party resources, such as concrete trucks or landscapers.

Program Projects
Contoso Estates
  • 530 Contoso Drive
  • 531 Contoso Drive
  • 532 Contoso Drive
  • 533 Contoso Drive

Portfolios

Some project managers may use portfolios to pair projects and programs with their corresponding strategic business objectives. For example, a software development company has identified three strategic business objectives: "Innovate in the industry," "Develop secure software," and "Provide top-notch customer support." The organization sets up portfolios for each of these objectives (Innovation, Security, and Support), and aligns the current projects and programs within these portfolios.

Portfolio Projects and Programs
Innovation
  • Project: Competitive analysis
  • Program: Industry training
    (Includes three projects: "Identify external resources," "Train product managers," and "Attend conferences."
Security
  • Project: Security testing
  • Program: Implement server-based registration system
    (Includes two projects: "Build server farm" and "Develop registration code.")
Support
  • Project: Deploy call center ticketing system
  • Project: Hire and train call center staff
  • Program: Online customer resources
    (Includes two projects: "Build customer interface for ticketing system" and "Develop and release e-learning resources.")

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The output: your project’s deliverables

Projects, phases, and processes all produce some kind of output, called a deliverable. Typically a deliverable is some kind of tangible item, such as a document or a completed product. Deliverables can be products or goods, but they can also be results or services. The following table provides some examples of these deliverable types.

Deliverable Type Description Examples
Product A tangible item that is the output of a project, phase, or process. Products can be standalone deliverables, or they can be a component of a larger deliverable. Document, software program, house
Result The output of a completed project, phase, or process. Revised bug triage process, new organizational structure, guidelines for green construction
Service An output of a project, phase, or process that enables an organization to perform a business function. Fully functioning call center, staffed table at a conference, radio dispatch service

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How does Project 2007 fit into your project management system?

Stepping even farther back, a project management "system" refers to the integrated set of processes, techniques, methodologies, and tools that are used for scheduling and tracking projects. Microsoft Office Project 2007 is a tool within the larger project management system. Projects, also called project plans, are saved as separate files within Project 2007, and can be grouped together into larger efforts, such as phases (phase: A group of related tasks that completes a major step in a project.), processes, programs, and portfolios (portfolio: A list of projects within an organization that may share common management of scope, budget, or resources.).

 Tip   For more information on grouping projects together into larger efforts, see Plans within plans: master projects and subprojects.

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Applies to:
Project 2007