How do you classify projects? Research for my PhD revealed no agreement between authors, with many classification suggestions based on many factors such as:

  • Large
  • Medium
  • Small
  • Strategic Importance
  • Risk
  • Business Value
  • Length
  • Complexity
  • Technology Used
  • Number of Departments Affected
  • Cost
  • Civil Engineering Projects
  • Manufacturing Projects
  • Management Projects
  • Research Projects

So how can we establish if projects are ‘Easy’ or ‘Difficult’?

Definition of a Project

A good starting point is to look at the definition of a project. The APM state that:

A project is a unique, transient endeavour undertaken to achieve planned objectives

However, although it is easy to define what a project is, all projects are different and unique by this very definition, and although the tools used may be similar across the spectrum, the issues with dealing with a 3-year construction project compared with a 3-month software project are very different.

Types of Projects

So can we define project types or classify them? A common method in education is to talk about projects in general, but then discuss the particular needs of types of projects

  • Software – Fast changing technology and difficult to visualise
  • Construction – Each project unique, usually with many contractors
  • Product Development – Time critical projects
  • Organisational Change – People projects

However, even so, there will be different types of projects within these categories.

Easy Projects and Hard Projects?

Many projects will be similar to those done before – such as a new building to the same design but in a different location. Or perhaps a new product development that just enhances or updates an existing product.

One way of categorising easy and hard projects is to look at some manufacturing terminology.

Runner, Repeater, and Stranger Projects

Runners, Repeaters and Strangers are manufacturing terms defined as follows:

  • Runners – standard processes which are carried out frequently, are highly predictable, consistent and usually efficient.
  • Repeaters – processes which are still predictable but less frequent and less efficient.
  • Strangers – processes which are highly customised, rarely occurring and often require a high level of resource to undertake.

So taking this terminology, we can define projects as:

Runner Project – Perhaps 80-90% similar to those done before. A revised automobile design using the same engine/chassis.

Repeater Project- Perhaps 60-80% similar to those done before. A revised product with a new technology or manufacturing process

Stranger Project – Containing major elements never attempted before.

Runner, Repeater, and Stranger Tasks

The concept can also be applied to Task Management. Which of the tasks on the projects have been done before?

These tasks:

  • Should have few risks
  • Should have good estimates for cost, work and duration
  • Should need no time and cost contingencies

Which tasks are stranger tasks?

  • Will have unknown risks
  • Will have poorer (or unknown) estimates for cost, work and duration
  • May need time and cost contingencies
  • Will need to use the experts and experienced staff

Therefore, a ‘Runner’ project and a ‘Stranger’ project need to be approached differently. One approach is to establish the percentage of known and understood tasks.

Be careful of complacency!

If the ‘Hard’ stranger tasks are using the ‘Experts’ there is a temptation to offer the ‘Easy’ runner tasks to the new staff. However, the tasks may not be easy ‘Runner’ tasks to the new staff, and these staff need support and help to gain experience.

Establishing how many tasks are ‘known’ on a project is a simple way of categorising the project as a ‘Runner’. ‘Repeater’, or ‘Stranger’. Different approaches are required for these different projects.


Posted On: 20th November 2017

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