What is a Project?

by Desh

The entire effort of Project Management is geared towards successfully managing a project.  But what is a project?  Let us look at the fundamental definition provided by the PMBOK Guide Sixth Edition.  It says:

A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service of result.

As a PM, and specifically on the PMP test, it is extremely important to get a handle on activities that are projects and that which are not.  In this definition, two words are critical – Temporary and Unique.  Temporary signifies a time schedule.  It may be a year, two years, or 10 years.  It is, yet, a clearly defined timeline from the start.  Many activities that are not undertaken as a project but as normal operations might be short-lived, but that may not be because of how they were perceived to be when embarked upon.  In the case of a project, the plan is to have a clear milestone of completion of the activities.

All these activities are undertaken with a clear set of objectives, where something that was not hitherto there will be created, implemented or accomplished.  The objective is to produce clearly defined deliverables.  This could be a tangible product like say, Taj Mahal or a new revolutionary Supercomputer.  Or it could be a service – establish a Planning and Forecasting process that helps the organization to create budgets and forecasts.  Or, it could be a result like say a final report which is the culmination of a study on, say the impact on the health of pollution by factories.  One thing to remember here is that even though the work to accomplish and complete a unique product, service or result is temporary; the final deliverable does go beyond the schedule of the project.  The effort to deliver is time-bound, not the existence of the deliverable.

Sometimes it may be possible in some projects that there are certain repetitive steps to accomplish the final product, service or result, like say testing the same code with different sets of data multiple times.  But as long as the final deliverable – project to implement the software – is unique and time-bound, the entire endeavor is a project.  The teams which undertake this project can be any size and involve members from one or more groups within an organization.

Every project manager starts off with the intention of completing the project successfully.  Yet, it is entirely possible that the project may end mid-way.  Not because creating or producing the final deliverable (the basic part of a project’s definition) was not the objective, but because of other factors – like financing issues, legal issues, lack of resources or change in the strategic direction by the company making the project irrelevant.  So many issues can stymie a project mid-way.  That does not, however, take away from the overall nature of the endeavor.

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