Is it really a project? Characteristics of a project and how to identify a project

At an Operations Control Center (© Photographer: Jens Görlich)

The author has written this series of blogs to provide interesting insights into project management in the airline industry. In the first post, he uses one notable example from the sector to outline the particular characteristics and distinctive features of a project.

1. Intro

It is midnight local time on October 28, 2018, in an airline’s bustling Operations Control Center, or OCC for short. On a normal night, the staff here manages and coordinates the aircraft and crews that are currently in the air. But this night is different. This night is special. There are more people here than usual overseeing the switch from old to new control software. As the airline moves from a summer to a winter schedule, the new software enters round-the-clock use and the old software is shut down.

2. The project

This particular night marks the culmination of months of hard work to identify what the airline needs and requires from an OCC system, appoint a supplier, install and configure software and integrate it into the infrastructure, train up employees and transfer data.

This was followed by extensive tests and a period of operating the software in parallel with the existing system to ensure that all of the components work and interact as desired.

All of these activities, and with them the project itself, are now drawing to a close on this night as regular operations begin.

3. Distinctive features of a project

This example illustrates very effectively what is special about a “project” and how to recognize one:

  • Every project pursues a specific objective. A result is delivered at the end.
    In this case, the objective is to ensure and improve flight operations. A functioning system is delivered at the end of the project.
  • A project is unique and unrepeated.
    This airline will introduce this software once as described above and can then use it every day in routine operations. In doing so, the airline’s unique set of limiting conditions, including its fleet, the airports it serves, local laws and fares, must be taken into account.
  • Every project has a defined start date and end date (which is sometimes adjusted to reflect new constraints – but more on this in future blog posts).
    The end of the project is reached when routine operations commence at midnight on October 28, 2018. A defined start date is also provided when the airline gives the order to carry out the project.
  • Projects are always associated with resource utilization and costs.
    In our example, additional staff from the airline and supplier are required to implement and complete the project, while costs are incurred by acquiring the software and putting the necessary infrastructure in place.

4. Triple constraints

The three pillars of any project can be derived from these characteristics. Using the expectations of a stakeholder as a starting point,

  • the content and scope must be outlined,
  • the schedule must be derived, and
  • the necessary costs must be determined.

These three factors are mutually dependent.

If, for example, the software requires extensive adjustments (scope), additional time (schedule) is required for this and additional costs are incurred.

After planning a project, it is often established that the project is too expensive or will take too long. Due to the interdependency of the three parameters, it is not possible to change one of them without affecting one or both of the other two factors.

For example, additional staff can be deployed to speed up a project (schedule), but this will result in higher costs.

If the costs are reduced, the content and scope can also be reduced, or the project may be paused (schedule) until in-house employees are available rather than external staff.



Read more in the following blog posts:


I will be providing further insights into project management in the airline industry in my next blog posts.


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