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When is a Web Project not a Project?

Project PlanWhat is a Project?

I’ve read several definitions of what a project is over the years but they’ll all very much based upon a standard definition such as; A project is a temporary organisation of resource that plan to achieve a specific set of defined objectives. The formal definitions also frequently refer to the obvious project constraints such as timescale, budget and scope.

But hiding somewhere in all the definitions is usually a reference to a project’s temporary or transient existence. One way or another; all projects must end.

What isn’t a Project

A project is an initiative that you can see an end to. For example, you can run a project to launch a website as long as there is some clarity with regard to knowing what the website needs before it’s launched. But once the website has launched, the project can be closed down and any further work is either part of another new project or is undertaken on an ongoing basis as part of the day-to-day running of the business.

The digital strategy of some businesses is to never consider the work on their website to be done. This is often in recognition that the nature of the web is one of constant and rapid evolution and a website needs to be in a continual cycle of monitoring and improvement.  

The distinction between a piece of work being, or not being defined as a project is important because it changes how you would organize your resources to get the work done. A project’s resources will disband at the end of the project whilst a website that is expected to constantly evolve will need to allocate resources for the long term. In simple terms, the digital strategy for building and maintaining a website will fundamentally impact a business’s hiring decisions. Will permanent or temporary resources be required? What resource should be in-house and what should we outsource? Or what combination of skills is needed to meet with the company’s digital ambitions?

Project or Day to Day Work

Setting up a formal project is more work and is more expensive than using resources and procedures that are already in place. There is a cost to setting up and closing down a project as they are considered out of the ordinary in terms of the day-to-day operation of the business.

Consider these questions;

Do we have clear enough objectives and requirements to state (with some certainty) that a forthcoming project can one day be closed down completely?

Can we handle the work required using business as usual resources and procedures or do we need to do something out of the ordinary?

Do we have the resource capacity to take on the work required?

And so by plagiarizing one of the habits of highly effective people; when it comes to running a project, we should “begin with the end in mind”. And if you can’t clearly see an end of the project, then perhaps a project is not the best approach to getting the work done. In fact, projects that start without knowing how to end are certainly running a higher risk of failing.

                            Begin with the end

Traditional Waterfall or Agile Projects

You may prefer to run your project using a traditional Waterfall approach. Or, you may be an avid proponent of using one of the many flavors of Agile methodology. Both have their up and down sides and I dare not show a favoritism for one approach over the other when it comes to choosing what’s best to run a project. It is far too complex a topic for over simplified opinions.

The truth is that both Waterfall and Agile approaches can, and are successfully used to run web projects. The difference relative to this discussion is that only the Agile development methodology is suitable to run both a formally set up project but can also be used to support an ongoing, day to day web development programme. However, the flexibility of Agile project presents a particular, potential risk to a project. It’s a powerful approach to managing ongoing change, but when you need to finish a fixed scope project to a fixed deadline, an Agile project will require a little upfront planning.


How the development of a website is funded also makes a difference to how the work gets done. Funding a website’s development using an operational budget that is usually fixed and run on an annual basis is different to securing additional and quite often exceptional funding to run a specific project. Operational budgets are usually good for making evolutionary improvements and maintaining a website on an ongoing basis. But operational budgets are not often able to support a peak of investment typically required by significant projects.   

                                              Project vs Business as Usual

Web Development Shapes

What shape is your web development profile? Are you continually evolving your website and keeping your web development at a constant level? Is there little happening on a regular basis and then occasionally, a big new web initiative comes along?

                                        Web Development Profiles

Depending on the profile of the work on your website, perhaps you’ll never actually run a web project. As a key attribute of a web project is that it must end, a formal project is not always the best approach to getting the work done. Then again, perhaps a combination of approaches might be required when there is ongoing web development but then occasionally, a big, special initiative comes along that requires a temporary project team to be formed.

Thinking about how, or even if, a project will end is a vital part of knowing whether you should be considering running a project or not. 

How do you decide, when or if, you should run a web project?

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