The short definition of a project is… “A sequence of tasks with a beginning and an end that is bounded by time, resources, and desired results.” The Project Management Institute (PMI) site states this… “A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources. And a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal. So a project team often includes people who don’t usually work together – sometimes from different organizations and across multiple geographies.”
As a guideline, projects truly differ from work in the following six key areas:
- Projects have a defined beginning and end. Getting from the beginning to the end of a project usually involves a definable sequence of steps or activities. And the best way to organize those steps or activities that make up a project are as tasks in a work breakdown structure that become the detail from which the project schedule is created and managed through your chosen project management software tool.
- Projects have a specific planned outcome. Every project produces a unique outcome of some sort that is used by a company, division, business unit, group of individuals or outside customer. These project outcomes or end results usually also have specific goals of quality and performance. A basic rule of thumb is this…when a project gets done, something new like a product, process, or functionality exists that didn’t wasn’t there before.
- Projects follow a plan. Projects follow a planned, organized approach to meet their objectives. As mentioned above, a schedule and budget is created for this temporary work with definite goal in place to meet the schedule and budget. And when it’s over, it’s over.
- Projects use resources that have been directly assigned to get the work done. Projects use resources (people, time, money) that have been specifically allocated to the work of the project, as opposed to the ongoing operations of the business. These ‘project resources’, how much the cost against the project, and how much they are used must be managed on an ongoing basis to ensure that the project work can be accomplished within the specified timeframe and budget as opposed to the ongoing operations of a business.
- Projects involve a team. A project usually involves a team of people to get it done. Rarely is a project a one-person operation. It usually involves a team driven to accomplish the same goal. And it’s usually a temporary team of individuals brought together specifically to successfully roll out an end solution, product or service. After this is accomplished, the team disbands and moves on to other work.
- Projects have stakeholders. Projects always have a unique set of stakeholders – this includes the project team, the customers, the project manager, the corporate executives, and other people who have an interest in the project. Stakeholders almost always bring differing expectations about end results to the project – which makes a project manager’s job more interesting (or troubling). These expectations must be managed for the completed project to be considered a success.
Again, not all work is a project, but all projects are work. The key is that a project is a temporary teaming of individuals to plan, configure and create something that didn’t exist before that meets a need that was expressed by a project ‘customer’ or ‘client.’ How this team performs in terms of on time delivery, on budget delivery and overall performance during the delivery all contributes (or takes away from) the success of the project.