There are many definitions of the term “project”. Most of those definitions are only from a certain perspective and they define projects accordingly. However, there are also some features, and components that almost all definitions of projects have in common, and we believe that these features and components are the core characteristics of what a Project actually means. In this article, we shall focus on these core characteristics and try to answer the question “what is a project?”. Further, we shall look at the various popular definitions of a Project, examples of a Project, and finally, we shall also look into What does not constitute a project.
What is a Project
In simple words, the term project refers to the time-bound goal-focused creation of results amid several constraints within or across organizations.
Projects are driven by factors outside (e.g. regulation) or inside the organization (e.g. strategy implementation). These factors that affect a Project are called Enterprise Environmental Factors (EEFs).
Dictionary Definitions & Other Definitions
How Dictionaries and Wikipedia Define “Project”
Dictionary.com defines a project broadly as a planned undertaking (large or small), involving money, personnel, and equipment. Check it here
The Business Dictionary focuses on the commercial and procedural aspects, defining a project as a “planned set of interrelated tasks to be executed over a fixed period” amid costs and other constraints (Check it here).
Similarly, there are many other sources. However, it should be noted that almost all these sources that define projects emphasize three aspects:
- A project is an undertaking,
- Some level of planning is involved (higher or lower)
- Every project has constraints related to cost, time, and resources.
It is reasonable to think that these three aspects form the core foundation of what a Project actually is.
PMI Definition of a Project
Here we will refer to the definition developed by the Project Management Institute (PMI), which is the premier body related to the knowledge and practices of Project Management. You can find a publicly available short definition of projects in the context of project management on the PMI website. However, the following points are stemming from PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®, 6th edition, p. 4 – 9) which is PMI’s publication on common project management good practices.
The PMBOK defines a project and its characteristics as below:
- a project is a “temporary endeavor”,
- aiming to create a unique result (which may usually refer to products and services but can also include driving organizational change),
- enabling the creation of quantifiable benefits (also referred to as “business value”), and
- it is initiated by leaders of the organization.
There are a few things that need to be understood very clearly from those few keywords highlighted in the PMI Definition of a Project
Temporary – implies not just a beginning and end, but also a defined scope and resources.
Unique – implies that a project is not a routine operation. A project has a set of operations that are designed to achieve a specific goal/s.
The PMI identified 4 key drivers that drive or require the initiation of projects by the management, namely:
- regulatory, legal, and social requirements
- stakeholder needs,
- creation or enhancement of products, processes or services,
- business or technological strategies.
Examples of Project:
- Construction of a bridge
- Development of software for a new business process.
- Installation of machinery in a factory
- Relief efforts after a natural disaster
What doesn’t constitute a project?
Activities that are not temporary and not unique. Best example: Any Operations activities.
Constructing a factory is a project
Producing 100 items every day in that factory is Not a project. It is operations. Operations are activities that are routinely carried out to support the business.