Published here November 2016

Introduction | Definitions of "Project" in the Public Domain
Business Process | The Need for a Specific Definition of "Project"
What Have We Learned from Our Efforts to Dissect "Project"? | Our Final "Project" Definition

Definitions of "Project" in the Public Domain

Here are some samples of the definition of the word "project" in the general public domain. A project is:

  • A systematic arrangement proposed for producing something. (Paraphrased) The Concise Oxford Dictionary.
  • An individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned and designed to achieve a particular aim. Google
  • A piece of planned work or an activity that is finished over a period of time and intended to achieve a particular purpose. On line English Dictionary
  • An individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim. Oxford dictionary
  • A planned piece of work that has a particular aim. MacMillan Dictionary

Common to all of these definitions is the idea of having a plan and the idea of having an aim, purpose or at least something as a result. But is that so different from general management you may ask? And the answer to that is, well, not really! In other words, in the public domain you can use any of these definitions, but in the context of project management, they are just not very helpful!

So why don't we look at the comparison of "project" with general management from the general management perspective? To go there, we first need to understand what we mean by "general management". Since people involved in projects come and go, people in general management like to think of themselves as being in "Business as Usual" (BaU) on a more permanent basis. That's assuming that there are no mergers or downsizings in the offing!

So what is BaU? Here we like to quote our favorite source: Henri Fayol.[2] He said simply:

"To manage is to forecast and to plan, to organize, to command, to co-ordinate and to control."

Note that Fayol was referring to maintaining the life of a business organization indefinitely, while a project is typically a one-shot deal! To project management people, Fayol's definition looks very much like the Project Management Institute's five Processes groups of Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing. And indeed they are, except that in BaU they represent a state of continuity, while in a project they represent the varying management of the work in the successive phases and stages in the project's life span. That management sequence gets repeated through to the project's ultimate completion and extinction (closure).

That makes a tremendous difference in how the two are perceived, organized and conducted. It also makes a difference in the attitudes towards the work involved in each case. As we've often said: in the case of a project the attitude is to get the work done once and for all. Indeed, implied but not necessarily stated specifically is that both the "plan" and "delivery" of something that results from a project is distinctive, one time only, even "unique", as in "one off". In the case of BaU, the objective is to keep the organization (work) going for as long as possible. While we, project managers that is, may understand this intuitively, the explanation is not sufficiently explicit to convey the difference to people at large.

So let's take another look from the business perspective. BaU people like to refer to Fayol's six-element dictum as a "Business Process". So what is the definition of a "Business Process"?

Introduction  Introduction

2. For those who may not know, according to Henri Fayol (1841-1925) was a French mining engineer, mining executive, author and director of mines who developed a general theory of business administration. He and his colleagues developed this theory independently of scientific management but roughly contemporaneously. Like his contemporary, Frederick Winslow Taylor, he is widely acknowledged as a founder of modern management methods.
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