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. One of the comments was that “the change is not merely to redefine ‘project management’ but to redefine ‘project'”. That is absolutely correct.
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.”
How Does This Apply to Agile?
There are potentially several problems with applying this definition to an agile project:
Beginning and End
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,
- The “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.
The Value of a Project Manager
The traditional definition of a “project” 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 in planning and managing the activities of a project to meet well-defined requirements within expected costs and schedules
- Obviously, a project manager can’t do that unless
- The project has a beginning and an end
- The product, service, or result the project is intended to create also needs to be relatively well-defined at the beginning of the project
What is a Project? A More Broadly-Defined Definition
An Agile project may be a more broadly-defined initiative to meet a business goal or objective.
- It may not 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. It may put more emphasis on guiding the people, process, and tools, to maximize the business value that the effort produces.
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 key things that are needed to develop a more general definition:
- A project does not necessarily have a well-defined beginning and an end
- The goal of the project may be 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.
You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.