What is a Project?

Simply said, a project is "work". It is a special type of work though. It is not any regular work or routine work you do. Nevertheless, it is still "work".

So, what type of work is a "project"? And what type of work is NOT a "project"? The definition will not be clear without answering both of these questions.

To answer these questions, I believe a good place to look at would be some examples. Abstract things are sometimes easier to understand through examples. Let's take a look at a few examples of projects:

Examples of Projects

Exercise: Go and ask a few peoole you know as to what projects they are working on? If they ask "at work or personal", just say "both".

What did you find? The list must be interesting. I would expect it to include a wide variety of project.

Let's look at what I have got for the examples. The set of examples below is not exclusive, but it is a good sample set:

  • Building a Light Rail Transit System: Building of the light-rail transit system to connect my city to its airport was definitely a grand project for the whole region.

  • Building Construction: A famous construction company is engaged in a luxury multi-purpose building construction project that will change the face of our neighbourhood.

  • Mobile App Development: I know this girl, who's managing a project on payment processing through their company's mobile app. That is a digital project.

  • Website Redesign: One of my colleague's working on redesigning an e-commerce website. This is another digital project.

  • 3D Game Development: My friend from school is working on this cool 3D game to be released this summer on Oculus Rift. That is definitely a project with a strict deadline.

  • My first Music Album: I'm working with my local garage band to get this done and it is my most-passionate project.

  • My friend's second Art Exhibition: My friend has given her heart and soul into this project.

  • Renovation of my house: I'm scared of this project, the budget is beyond my comprehension, the timeline is too long and the house will be a mess all through this time. But, I don't have an option as the old house is already in shambles.

  • Building of Egypt's Pyramids: A remarkable achievement of a bygone era, that we marvel even today. These were some of the very first projects that we know of today.

Examples of NON-Projects

Now shall we look at some examples of things that are NOT projects? Here they are:

  • Running the daily operations of your company

  • Doing regular maintenance work on the Light Rail Transit system that connects your city center to the main airport

  • Going out for your regular sales meeting with you Advertiser Client, with whom you have been doing business for the last 10 years

  • Working in your Condo Corporation to manage the operations of your Condo building on an ongoing basis

  • Ongoing sales of your artwork

  • Catching the commuter train to go to work every day

  • Making breakfast everyday

  • Sleeping at night every day

  • Daily governance of the Kingdom of Egypt (when it existed)

Do you see a pattern? If not, look more closely.

Things that we do (or work that we do) which is routine and regular are not projects. Things that repeat for ever, are not projects. But, things that are done towards a one-time effort, done seeking a specific outcome are projects. Have you noticed that the projects do not last forever? Have you noticed that the projects are very unique?

With some examples in our mind, lets look at some formal definitions of what a project is.

Definition of a Project

Project is a temporary endeavour set up to achieve one or more unique and specific objective(s) - that is how I define a project to be. Now, while talking about a project, we'll have to definitely consider the definition put forward by some of the premier institutions on the subject of project management.

The PMI defines project as:

It's a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.

PRINce2 defines a project as:

A temporary organization that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed Business Case.

What exactly is a Project?

Features of a Project

Both the definitions points towards a few key points, indicated by the use of a few keywords: "temporary", "endeavour", "unique", "specific", "objective". These are the most important features of a project. There are however, other features of a project. Let's take a look at some of the key features of a project:

  • A project is something very unique

  • A project is set up to achieve a specific objective

  • A project is something that does not last forever

  • A project would have a specific start date

  • A project may have a specific end date or a delivery deadline

  • A project generally consists of completing a number of tasks

  • A project generally involves a budget

  • A project will have people involved - in the form of teams

These are by no means a good representation of all the various types of projects that we could have, but these definitely show how diverse projects could be.

Types of Projects

During this post, we did touch upon a few types of projects. Let's take a look at those.

First we project could be personal or professional (identified as work-related). This categorization is completely based on who you ask and what role that person has in the project and where exactly the project is being run.