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Distinctions between different project types: Concrete, Occasional and Open

Broadly speaking there are three different types of projects and each have different characteristics, advantages and disadvantages. These need to be understood by project leaders so they can identify appropriate resources and tools to manage the project, as well as adjusting their leadership role. The information in this article can be found in more detail in Project Leadership 3rd Edition.

To be able to distinguish between the three different project types you have to understand firstly the definition of output, secondly the level of structure and formality and finally the level of know-how/experience. These categories are explained in more detail in the figure below:

Using these 3 categories we can describe the three types of projects below:



For each type of project there are a wide range of advantages and disadvantages, as well as requiring a project leader who displays certain qualities. These are discussed in more detail for each of three types below:

Concrete Project

Advantages include: having high levels of experience amongst project members, there are established relationships and structures, as well as using tried and tested systems and tools.

Disadvantages include: potentially difficult relationships with contractors, using systems can be an unproductive use of time and technical dominance can push out other disciplines.

The project leader of a concrete project is likely to bring a variety of different parts together in a complex manner. Everyone must have clear roles and responsibilities and the leaders needs to have good judgement, experience and intuition so they can make decisions quickly. Successful leaders of concrete projects prefer:

  • To work within a project that has a clear structure and given processes
  • To build a team of people whose experience they understand and can utilise
  • To actively solve problems
  • To take a high profile


Occasional Project

Advantages include: flexibility in decisions about who is in the project team, less restrictions through processes, often has support from senior staff and helps leader build credibility.

Disadvantages include: having conflicting priorities, frustration at length of time to make decisions and resistance at working across unknown boundaries.

The project leader is responsible for shaping the outputs in the direction they want, once they have designed and modified the project as they go along. Successful leaders of occasional projects prefer:

  • To facilitate collaboration to integrate a range of different people
  • To tolerate ambiguity and be flexible in their approach
  • To question the established way of doing things
  • To shape ideas and develop the form and structure


Open Project

Advantages include: individual spontaneity and energy can be used as motivation, increases innovation and low risk as low visibility so minimal consequences if it fails.

Disadvantages include: slow progress as low priority and needs organisational acceptance of failure as may take time to learn from opportunities and succeed.

The project leader of an open project tends to work behind the scenes to facilitate and have low visibility. Successful leaders of open projects prefer:

  • To work outside the mainstream
  • To be an innovator
  • To find new ways of doing things
  • To maintain the momentum of early success


Each project demands varying capabilities from the project leader and project team. As explained above, an individual’s preferred way of working may mean they are better suited to one style of project than another. To help inform you, consider looking for distinctions in the types of projects above and then consider how you can adapt your leadership approach.

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