Are Projects Dead?

<< Agile Blog

In recent years, more people have started to believe that projects are dead or dying. With the industry now boasting more continual work, it’s understandable why projects could be considered relics of the 20th century. However, that isn’t necessarily the case.

A project is defined as "a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result." The temporary nature of projects indicates that a project has a definite beginning and end. The argument against projects is that modern project-based work lacks a 'temporary nature'. If it has no 'definite beginning and end', can it really be defined as a project?

It’s not unheard of for a newly hired university graduate to work on one project for a substantial amount of time. If a developer is hired and assigned to a project, it is possible that they could spend the next 40 years working on that project alone. Did this developer work on a project? 

The developer’s career was not of a 'temporary nature' and it’s likely that the project didn’t end once they left the company, meaning there was no 'definite beginning and end'. Whilst that is true, the developer undoubtedly focused on many individual goals and milestones throughout the period of time working on this project. Perhaps each milestone did not have a definite beginning and end, but the ease of modern software releases can often blur a project’s beginning and end dates.

Instead of thinking of the developer’s 40-year career as one project, it’s more accurate to describe it as a series of shorter projects.

Projects remain useful in the industry today. With any iterative and incremental process, there’s always a risk of delivering less value due to the heavy focus on the short term. Choosing the 'urgent' over the 'important' is a trap that product owners can easily fall into. Each sprint, instead of focusing on ‘important’ items, which could deliver more value over the longer term, product owners are tempted to select items they believe to be 'urgent', which customers are eager for today. Projects help to avoid this by providing a plan that is significantly longer than a sprint.

The more long-term goal of a project also builds a greater motivation to accomplish something grander than what could have been achieved in a single sprint. Yet, contrasting, they also allow teams to constantly work towards a tangible target.

Projects aren’t dead yet. Maybe it’s simply our definition of what a project is that is dying.

<< Agile Blog