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

The Real Problem

As Dr. Lynda Bourne observes: "This definition is imprecise, ..."[13] However, she then goes on to make comparison with a football match. This is all well and good but it misses the point. It is the wrong comparison.

The point that the PMI Standards teams struggled mightily with, in developing the original PMBOK document in the 1980s, was how to differentiate Project Management from General Management[14] and how to make that clear in their standard definitions. And real differences do exist. For example:

  • Actual time and costs of a new, unique, outcomes are the consequences of the work involved and how it is managed, and not established by fiat.[15]
  • The change in management attitudes as a consequence.
  • The uncertainty that a project implies and the special need to manage risks.
  • If not self evident, management may decide to deliberately manage an initiative as a Project.[16]

So the real problem is:

How do we reflect these distinctions in the founding definitions of project management?

Over the past sixteen years, in the course of updating our Wideman Comparative Glossary of Project Management Terms, we have collected a number of definitions that we think have distinctive value.[17] The results are instructive. On the next page we have assembled this list of author definitions for ease of reference.

If you find the list gets too boring to read, just skip to the last page: Summary Conclusions. Keep in mind, however, that we have three definitions referenced so far, as shown in Table 1.






PMI's original founding definition

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 with which the objectives are to be accomplished.

Original PMBOK 1987, Glossary, p22


PMI's current definition

A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, or service [or result].

PMBOK® Guide 1996 to 2016


Dr. Bourne's suggested update.

A project is a temporary organization established to accomplish an agreed scope of work, within defined constraints, which the relevant stakeholders agree shall be managed as a project.[18]

Dr. Lynda Bourne's blog, extracted August, 2016



[Your suggestion]


Table 1: PMI's original definition of "Project" and subsequent offerings
A Historical Perspective  A Historical Perspective

13. See our earlier Introduction.
14. Today, "General Management" is often referred to in project management texts as "Business as Usual" (BaU).
15. As in a football game.
16. The alternative is to run the initiative through the organization's "stove pipe" management structure. Or just leave it up to chaos.
17. Version 6.0 is now a work in progress.
18. If you don't know what a project is in the first place, how can you manage it as such?
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