If you need to start a project, you’ve already failed #noprojects

What is your focus, if not a project?

I want to be controversial for a moment and propose an end to IT projects, project management & project managers. I propose that the entire project process is flawed from the start for one simple reason. If you need to run a project, you’ve already failed.

By definition, an IT project is a temporary structure to govern and deliver a complex change (such as a new product or platform) into an organisation. However, to be truly competitive, an organisation needs to be able to deliver a continuous stream of change. Managed properly, this negates the need for a project and the associated cost overheads.

This is fundamentally what #noprojects is. The approach, structure, tactics and techniques available to successfully deliver continuous change. At its core, #noprojects is predicated on the alignment of activities to outcomes, measured by value, constrained by guiding principles and supported by continuous delivery technologies.

This presentation will introduce you to #noprojects. You will learn how to define an outcome and create an Outcome Profile. You will also learn how to manage change within the context of an outcome through the Activity Canvas.

Learning Outcomes

  • Why #noprojects
  • How to define outcomes (rather than outputs) and use this as the key organisational driver of work
  • The structure of an Outcome Profile
  • How to use the Activity Canvas to manage a continuous flow of work
  • How to identify shadow projects


This is intended to be a practical discussion on how the run a continuous development process. There are four parts to the presentation (roughly a quarter of the presentation will be spent on each).

Why #noprojects

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. We’ll examine why projects are not the best mechanism to deliver IT change. Specifically, within the context of 5 areas.

  1. Projects address a static need: Even the most comprehensive project leaves residual need which, over time, continues to grow and will lead to follow-on projects.
  2. Projects are expensive: There is an explicit cost to running a project. We will examine the three O’s that differ between continuous changes vs. a project; Overheads, Overruns and Opportunity costs.
  3. Estimates can be useful - but not accurate: The sad truth is that estimates (such as the duration of a project) are extremely hard to get accurate, and even harder to get right.
  4. Projects fail: As a consequence of the cost and difficulty in running projects, the failure rate of IT projects is extraordinarily high.
  5. Retention of subject matter expertise: There is a loss of knowledge when a project team is disbanded which also leads to additional costs for knowledge transfer to business-as-usual staff. This is implicit in the temporary nature of a project.

The Outcome Profile

Whether at the level of team, division or organisation, the continuous flow of activities are focused on changing outcomes rather than outputs. An outcome is measured by its value to the organisation, whether direct & tangible or indirect & intangible. Outcomes are planned, slowly changing and define the common direction for the organisation.

The profile of an outcome defines the context, intent and expectations for the team, division or organisation. While the characteristics of a profile will differ between organisations, at a minimum it should contain.

  1. Summary – a short description of the outcome.
  2. Baseline Measure – if the outcome is quantifiable, what is the current state?
  3. Owner – who (either an individual or team) is accountable for this outcome?
  4. Dependencies and Order (Ranking) – where does this outcome sits in relation to your other outcomes?
  5. Investment – what is your maximum available investment/budget to achieve this outcome?
  6. Current target - what are you trying to achieve? Try to avoid percentages (as they can be easily gamed) and remember that this is a current target. It will change over time. Depending on the context of the outcome, the current target may also have a timeframe or due date against it.
  7. Outcome test plan - how will you measure effectiveness of the activities against the outcome target?

What is NOT included in the profile is a plan. The team is expected to dynamically react and proact (if that’s not a word, it should be) to opportunities in the market or organisation by instituting continuous change.

The Activity Canvas

Organisations need a way to manage work without resorting to projects. That’s where activity management and the activity canvas come in. The activities delivered by each team to achieve an outcome exist on a continuum; small to large effort against low to high value. Your status quo (or do nothing) sits at the bottom left.

Activities in the ‘Do’ quadrant are relatively easy to perform and make measurable progress towards the outcome. Those in the ‘Defer’ quadrant are important, but complex, and need to be planned appropriately. The ‘Limit’ quadrant, usually your hygiene processes, should still be undertaken but only when needed or as time permits. At the bottom right is the ‘Avoid’ quadrant, and it would be rare for you to undertake any activities here.

Bringing it all together

Without binding a team to a specific output, an organisation that understands, and plans for, growth outcomes can fundamentally adapt to a changing market. Governance controls come in the form of common working principles and clearly defined, non-conflicting, outcomes. In this way, senior management can delegate the ‘how’ to their teams, while retaining ownership of the ‘what’ and ‘why’.