Except for text quoted by others, the views expressed are strictly those of Max Wideman.
Published here October 2016

Introduction | Lynda's Suggested Update | A Historical Perspective
The Real Problem | Definitions by Various Authors | Summary Conclusions

A Historical Perspective

The term Project is a common word in the English language and when used as a noun means some sort of planned undertaking[6] , a plan or a scheme[7] , or assignment, job, task, undertaking, or work.[8] However, from a professional project manager's perspective, what we want to know is not what everyone thinks it means in common usage, but rather what we want it to mean in the context of professional project management. Note the "what we want it to mean!" This freedom of choice is important because the word "Project" is the bedrock of a project manager's activities and all the responsibilities that we want to attach to the practice of Project Management.

The first Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) document was officially issued by the Project Management Institute's PMI Standards Committee on March 28, 1987 and implemented for Certification effective September 1988. You might say that this was the birth of project management, as we know it today. Of course, some form of project management has been practiced for centuries — just think of the pyramids for instance.

Before general publication, the first draft of the PMBOK document was distributed for review to all PMI members in 1986. The objective was to provide a sound, comprehensive and coordinated reference source to underpin PMI's growing certification program. Prior to that, several PMI standing committees had been working on various drafts of the functional areas, now generally known as the Knowledge Areas. The collective effort was brought together under a project assigned the number "#121" by the PMI Board of Directors.

Here is an extract from the original PMBOK, 1987:[9]

"In the course of Project #121, a significant degree of consensus was reached on a number of basic issues not previously defined. For example, there was unanimity over the need for simplicity and universality within the PMI PMBOK development mandate. There was also no difficulty in accepting the following definition of a project:

A project is any undertaking with a defined starting point and defined objectives by which completion is identified. In practice, most projects depend on finite or limited resources by which the objectives are to be accomplished.

It should be noted that the definition of project does not require a long dissertation as to how its objectives are to be achieved. This is intrinsic in the definition of project management!"

It should be remembered that this conclusion was concurred by some 80 PMI members who participated in the assembly of PMBOK 1987 through sub committees and workshops, and validated by the 16 high ranking members of the PMI Standards Committee.

By the 1990s it was felt that an update of the original PMBOK was required, so in 1996 a replacement document was produced. In fact, this was not an update but a completely new approach. First it was called a "Guide" and secondly it took a systems approach to trying to explain how all the components previously identified actually fit together. This document took an enormous amount of effort to produce and unfortunately had some serious shortcomings.[10]

This is not the place to criticize PMBOK 1996, but it is relevant to note that the definition of "Project" was reduced to:[11]

"A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service."

This definition has remained essentially the same ever since.[12]

Clearly, this latest definition falls far short of what most project managers are expected to strive for, in their everyday project work. As a consequence, since then many authors have attempted their own definitions to support whatever the intent is in their ensuing works.

Lynda's Suggested Update  Lynda's Suggested Update

6. Webster's Concise Electronic Dictionary
7. Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary
8. The Random House Thesaurus
9. PMBOK, March 28,1987, PMBOK Standards, p0-2
10. Major problems include the labeling of management processes that get mistaken for project lifespan phases, and as a result together with the systems depiction, many people attempt to use the guide as a project management methodology rather than as a repository of knowledge.
11. PMBOK guide 1996, Project Management Institute, Glossary p167
12. Some time later, "or result" has been added at the tail end, an addition that does not change the lack of intent.
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