What's in a Name?
"Project" is fundamental to the concept of "project
management", and both have been around for a long time. Considering
the vital part that projects play in our modern society today, you
would have thought that by now a clear definition would have emerged.
A definition that provides the bed-rock foundation for the theory
and practice of the project management discipline, and one that
has broad consensus amongst practitioners at large. But it seems
that this is not the case. Indeed, there has been a spate of variations
for this term over the last few years reflecting many different
perceptions of the meaning. You can confirm this by a simple search
of the Internet.
For example, the Wideman Comparative
Glossary of Project Management Terms, v3, now lists more than
twenty definitions for "project", each with a different
flavor. They range from the simple:
"An organized undertaking, limited in time to achieve specific
To the controversial:
"Any organized business activity where an investment is made.
It most commonly refers to the work of creating and operating a physical asset,
such as a bridge or a building. However, it need not involve the creation of
a new physical asset at all. For example, if a company launches a new product
which has been manufactured by existing assets. The project extends over the
whole investment life-cycle of activity, not just the initial phases while the
investment is being made."
To the complex:
"A human endeavor legitimately regarded by its stakeholders as
a project [because] it encompasses a unique scope of work that is constrained
by cost and time [and] the purpose of which is to create or modify a product
or service to achieve beneficial change defined by quantitative and qualitative
If this demonstrates anything at all, It shows the value of flexibility in defining terms to reflect the author's particular point of view. But woe betide the unfortunate that comes on board a project with preconceived and fixed ideas of what the jargon means on that particular project! Meanwhile, the official US concepts of project management appear to be languishing while those in Europe are moving ahead. Over the last couple of years there has been a marked effort to advance "program" management. Although spelled "programme" east of the Atlantic, there have been a spate of new definitions.
These range from:
"A broad effort encompassing a number of projects."
"A collection of projects related to some extent to a common
objective. For example: a major project, a new business objective, or a new product
To any one of:
- A portfolio of projects selected and planned in a coordinated way so as to achieve a set of defined objectives, giving effect to various (and often overlapping) initiatives and/or implementing a strategy.
- A single, large or very complex project, or
- A set of otherwise unrelated projects bounded by a business cycle.
However, Tom Mochal in the US provides further clarification by saying:
"The umbrella structure established to manage a series of related projects.
The program does not produce any project deliverables. They are produced by the
individual project teams. The purpose of the program is to:
- Provide overall direction and guidance
- Make sure the related projects are communicating effectively
- Provide a central point of contact and focus for the customer and the project teams, and
- Determine how individual projects should be defined to ensure all the work
gets completed successfully."
But it takes Rick Turoczy corresponding by email 7/2/01 to explain Project
"A process designed to ensure that individual projects, initiatives,
and the required resources are all aligned with corporate strategy, thereby ensuring
the most value and least risk for the invested resources. In addition, the process
allows the corporate strategy to be communicated throughout the organization,
better equipping it to choose and execute those projects and initiatives that
support the strategy, while eliminating those that do not."
could not have said it better ourselves.
1. Nordic Project Management Terminology, NORDNET,
Reistad Offset, Oslo, 1985
2. Risk Analysis and Management of Projects, UK, http://www.ramprisk.com/
circa 1998. Editorial Note: In this description, RAMPís definition of
"investment life cycle" extends from the start of an idea to the disposal
of the resulting asset.
3. Cooke-Davies, T. J, http://humansystems.co.uk/
in an unpublished thesis, August 2000
4. Welcom http://www.wst.com/
PM Glossary, Project Management Solutions, Internet: 1998
5. Patel, M.B., & P.W.G. Morris, Centre for Research in the
Management of Projects http://www.UMIST.ac.uk/
University of Manchester, UK, 1999
6. Projectnet Glossary, Project Manager Today, UK, http://www.projectnet.co.uk/ April 1997
7. Mochal T, the TenStep Project Management Process Glossary
8. ProSight Inc http://www.prosight.com/