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Conclusion

This chapter has recognised the increasing importance of projects in generating economic activity and the consequent change in organisational structure. It contrasts the characteristics of project-based and product-based organisations, highlighting the important role that projects play in implementing organisational strategy. As PBOs are a relatively new phenomenon, various definitions are provided. The move to operating in project mode has implications, advantages, disadvantages and complexities. Among them is the stochastic arrival of projects, which provides opportunities but also introduces uncertainties. PBOs can be managed as a pyramid structure but more effectively when their processes are horizontally and vertically integrated. The chapter concluded by introducing the concept of project risk and the required risk management capabilities.

Example of Projects in ABC University

This example illustrates the significant role that projects play in ABC University. ABC University is an entirely fictitious entity but it can be argued that its characteristics are not uncommon among universities in the western world.

ABC University continues to experience major changes, a trend that has been accelerating in recent years. The major cause is that the funding it receives from public sources has reduced significantly as the principle of 'user pays' becomes more established within government, reflecting the view that 'why should the taxpayer fund the education of a small group of citizens?' With dwindling support, the university has to look at other sources of revenue. An obvious response is to increase the fees charged to students. With increasing tuition fees, students in turn have become more selective in how they choose the institution and the courses in which they enrol. These have to appeal to students and provide 'value for money'. ABC responded in a number of ways, and these are reflected in the project activities it undertakes.

One of the most noticeable aspects of ABC University has been its brandbuilding campaign. This is a project initiated by the marketing unit and involved surveying the public to establish current perceptions of the university's image and reputation. Creative activities developed an advertising theme that was deemed to best reflect the nature and ambitions of the university. The theme was integrated in advertisements of particular courses to strengthen its overall impact. The project will most likely continue for a number of years and its impact will be assessed in regular surveys. Different media are used, including traditional newspaper and television outlets and newer social media approaches that appeal more strongly to younger people who make up most of the student cohort. The major risk is the project's cost-effectiveness.

Financial pressures have also required the university's internal systems to become more efficient. A number of IT projects have been initiated to automate what were previously manual systems. Modern technology, especially the web, provides the means to link staff and students electronically and exchange information in a paperless format. One project is to link students, potential and current, with the university's website. The website provides a rich source of information, such as course material, and supports transactions, such as enrolling online in a particular course. Internally, another project has provided links between administrative and academic staff, via an intranet, to exchange information. One of the risks is the insecurity of web technology because it can be penetrated (e.g. to change stored data) and misused (e.g. to deface the university's home page) by those seeking to damage the reputation of the university.

There is an increasing expectation by students of being able to access their courses 'any time' and from 'any place'. More and more students are studying part-time to pay for increasing study fees and to progress their careers. Online education is therefore attractive to them and the university has responded. It has started a project that applies web software to offer its courses online. The mode of delivery is interactive since its approach seeks to replicate the lecturer- student relationship of the traditional classroom environment. Because of the use of leading-edge technology, project members have to have the required skill and experience to bring the project to a successful conclusion. A risk factor is the possible lack of the necessary expertise within the project team.

By adopting a client-oriented service approach, the university organises events for the public. The corporate affairs office is responsible for open days, information evenings and event sponsorships. Each of them represents a project that takes place once or twice each year and has to be 'refreshed' every time it is executed. Open days are intended for prospective students and have to be engaging to attract their attention and presence. The university therefore organises entertainment at these events, such as the appearance of a music band, in addition to staff demonstrating the benefits of the courses they teach. Information evenings suit students intending to study part-time and are organised at well located, high quality function facilities. Again, the project team has to make all the necessary arrangements. Sponsorship of high-profile events, such as an international tennis tournament, strengthens the brand image of the university. The risks of the projects are that they are poorly executed and cause more harm than good.

ABC University engages in many other projects. Examples are developing new courses, partnering with an offshore institution to teach the university's courses, and constructing new buildings to house laboratories or lecture halls. All these activities are delivered in project mode and are in response to the demands of a competitive education market. Besides undertaking projects, the university maintains a functional structure that provides central support to its faculties as well as projects. These are human resources (payroll and staff wellbeing), legal services (to settle disputes), quality control (over its courses), and IT. ABC University can be perceived as a hybrid PBO.

 
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