Module Abstract Project Management

1. Chapter
What is a project?

"In a truly minimalist definition, the Project Management Institute defines a project as „A temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product or service“ (PMBOK Guide, 2000 Edition). Although a commonly agreed upon standard definition is not yet within reach, most authors define a project more narrowly than that. Kerzner (2001) for example, defines a project as any series of activities and tasks that:

  • have a specific objective to be completed within certain specificationshave defined start and end dateshave funding limits (if applicable)consume human and non-human resources (i.e. money, people, equipment)
  • are multifunctional (i.e. cut across several functional lines)

In many definitions further defining features of projects are complexity, uniqueness and unfamiliarity, which effect a close association of projects with uncertainty and risk.

What is NOT a project?
With the rise of project driven business strategies in the last decade, the term “project” has proliferated far beyond the definitional boundaries specified above. While this development certainly does not hurt the project management profession and the associated authors, trainers and application developers riding high on the “project boom”, it is vital to prevent blurring of the object at hand in order to establish clear indicational guidelines for certain project management tools. Three of the most frequent misuses of the project-concept are relating to organizations, programs, and operational routines.

  • Organizations are not projects: Contrary to the common practice of referring to small enterprises and NGOs as “projects”; organizations are not projects unless they are specifically designed for temporary existence. It is also important to distinguish projects from project driven organizations, which represent a lasting shell for otherwise shifting and temporary activities.
  • Programs are not projects: Programs are more extensive in scope and timeframe than projects. While the border between projects and programs can be fluid, a program may be defined as a set of projects with a common strategic goal. In an organizational context a program is the long-term framework in which a number of projects are managed (such as a specific funding or R&D program)
  • Operational routines are not projects: With frequent repetition of a specific sequence of activities, the uncertainty and uniqueness of the process falls away. In becoming an operational routine, such a sequence ceases to be a project."

Andreas Knoth: What is a project? © East European Studies Online; 2010.