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Defining the difference between a Project & Business as Usual

At Hart Square, we have the great pleasure of working with our clients across the non-profit sector to deliver transformative technology projects that will support and enhance the experiences for members, fundraisers, and beneficiaries. However, it’s important that before our clients embark on a piece of work, they understand the difference between a project and business as usual (BAU). I will set out here the key differences and how to approach both to ensure successful delivery.

When is a piece of work a project?

Defining when a piece of work is a project is a critical element for any organisation to consider. The two key questions to ask are:

  1. Is the piece of work temporary with a clear endpoint?
  2. Is it delivering a unique product with a defined purpose?

A defining characteristic of a project is that it’s a temporary structure with a defined start and end date, so a project will be specifically initiated, then once the activities have been delivered, the project has been completed and will be closed. If there is no defined go-live or end date, then it’s likely this is business as usual activity or process. An example of this would be membership renewals that take place throughout each year where a series of regular processes would occur.

Aligned with this, the second key question is whether the work is delivering a unique product with a defined purpose. A project aims to produce deliverables that address a problem or need that has been identified before it starts. A good example of this is a new CRM or website which would be looking to increase the fundraising income and profile of the charity.

There are several other characteristics that are important to define a project but the above are two things that really stand a project apart from BAU.

Defining Business As Usual

BAU can typically be defined as a standard day to day business operation that ensures continuity within the organisation. This would include a range of activities such as monthly reporting, IT helpdesk or supporter services. These functions operate through a day-day activity, throughout the year, often repeating the tasks and are not time-bound or have a specific capital budget associated with the work.

The cross-over of resources

Finally, there is one area of cross-over to consider and that is the approach to resources. There needs to be an acknowledgement of the resources and people involved across both projects and BAU to ensure there isn’t resourcing gaps and challenges across the organisation and that people have sufficient time to deliver the quality of work that is required.

It’s critically important to understand the difference between a project and BAU, when defining which approach to take to the activity. It’s important to take the time to plan the activity effectively, understand the timings and how you as an organisation define the work required. Projects require a distinctly different approach and mindset; they are solving a problem and it’s important that they are temporary. In time, project outcomes may become part of BAU activity in organisations and become embedded across an organisation.