Tag Archives: Project Definition

What is a Project?

What is a project? I recently wrote a blog post on “What is Project Management?” that has generated some good comments on LinkedIn:

What is Project Management?

One of the comments from Wayne Mack on that post was that “the change is not merely to redefine ‘project management’ but to redefine ‘project'”. He is absolutely right.

PMBOK defines a project as follows:

“A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result”. The temporary nature of projects indicates that a project has a beginning and an end.”

There are potentially several problems with applying this definition to an agile project:

  • An agile project may not have a well-defined beginning and end. An Agile project will have an end at some point in time, but the end may be indeterminate when the project starts.
  • An Agile project may be more of an ongoing development effort with an end that is not well-defined and the end, when it happens, may be a long time in the future. That kind of effort might not be considered to be “temporary”.
  • An agile project generally creates “a unique product, service, or result”; however, that “unique product, service, or result” might not be well-defined at the beginning of the project and the goal of the project may be more broadly-defined at the beginning of the project.

This definition is probably based on how people have seen the value provided by a project manager. The value provided by a project manager has traditionally been seen as planning and managing the activities of a project to meet well-defined requirements within expected costs and schedules. Obviously, you can’t do that unless the project has a beginning and an end and the product, service, or result the project is intended to create is relatively well-defined at the beginning of the project.

A more broadly-defined initiative to meet a business goal or objective that doesn’t have specific, well-defined requirements at the beginning of the project and may not have a well-defined end-date at the beginning of the project probably wouldn’t fit this definition of a “project”. In that situation, the value provided by a project manager is likely to be very different and may put more emphasis on guiding the people, process, and tools, to maximize the business value that the effort provides.

If we broaden the vision of what “project management” is, we also need to broaden the definition of what a “project” is. There are probably two things that are needed to develop a more general definition:

  1. Drop the second statement that a project has a well-defined beginning and an end
  2. Broaden the first statement to include the potential that a project may be designed to satisfy a more broad-based business objective

The new definition of a project would come out something like this:

“A project is a endeavor undertaken to satisfy a broad-based business objective/outcome or to create a unique product, service, or result”.

If we broaden the definition of “project Management” to embrace Agile as well as traditional plan-driven projects, we must also broaden the definition of what a “project” is as well.