School districts are often faced with numerous tasks which must be carried out over significant periods of time, some accomplished throughout the year and some even carrying over several years. In this post and in follow up posts I will be going over some ways that you can tackle tasks like these, including some best practices, methodology and techniques that can be scaled to meet any objective.

The first step is to know and understand the difference between operational functions and projects. Essentially, you should ask yourself, is this task simply something that happens continuously as an integral part of running a district? If so, it is probably an operational function.

What makes a project different? First, let’s define what a project is and go over some examples of projects in a school district. A project meets the following criteria:[1]

  • Temporary; has a defined beginning and end
  • Defined scope and resources
  • Unique set of operations to meet a specific objective (not a routine operation)

When thinking about some examples in school districts of what would be considered a project, look at the criteria above and see if it meets all of them. In my school district experience, boundary planning is an excellent example of a project. Boundary planning can mean opening new schools, balancing student population among schools and even closing schools.

This boundary planning process is definitely a temporary event and has a stated beginning and end. Scope and resources are defined based on the district’s needs. It is unique, because it is meeting a specific objective or set of objectives, and is not a routine operation.

Other examples in school districts that would fall into the definition would be the following:

  • Upgrading the phone system across the district
  • Reconfiguration of offices or classrooms
  • Implementation of new software (i.e. payroll system, student information system, transportation routing system)
  • Changing bell times

Sometimes it is easy to be confused about whether an event is unique or not. Although changing bell times will have a permanent result in the district, the process of determining new bell times is only temporary. This task is unique because it is meeting a new objective.

Payroll is a great example of something which is sometimes a project and sometimes an operational function. Payroll processing is an operational function because it is repeated regularly and has no defined beginning and end. However, the process of selecting and implementing a payroll system would be a project.

Of course, these are some larger examples of projects, and you will encounter smaller projects as well which may be less formal. When you receive an assignment, use the criteria above to help identify what it is that you’re dealing with. If you determine that a particular task or job is a project, then approaching it with defined methodology will set the stage for the project to be successful. We’ll discuss that methodology in my next post.


[1]Project management body of knowledge (5th Ed.). (2013). Newtown, PA: Project Management Institute [PMI].

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