Original version of this paper presented at The Project Management Institute 1999 Conference in Philadelphia, Pa.
Revised February 2002.
Published here April 2002.

Abstract | Introduction | Types of Projects | Common Characteristics
Approach | Variables | Conclusions | References | Appendix


How should we categorize different types of projects? The dictionary defines typology as the study of types as in systematic classification. It defines taxonomy as the science, laws, or principles of classification. It defines classification as the systematic grouping into categories by shared characteristics or traits. The project management profession needs a classification system for different types of projects so that we may communicate effectively across the entire spectrum of projects and across the entire world.

There are many different potential purposes for a system of classification. One useful objective for a list of different types of projects is to segment the market for marketing purposes. Another is to define the different management approaches needed for different projects. The system of classification might change based on the purpose. Another purpose would be to select the right project manager based on the requirements of a specific project.

Other research

Shenhar and Wideman in several papers have proposed a system of classification based on three variables of (1) Degree of uncertainty at initiation; (2) Complexity based on degree of interconnectedness and (3) Pace based on the need for speed in the available time frame for the project. In a second paper they added the dimension of an intellectual product (white collar) versus a craft product (blue collar). These papers present several very useful analyses but they do not give us a complete list of different types of projects nor do they define all the differences between them.

Alternative parameters for categorizing projects

There are a four basic ways in which we can set up a classification system of projects as follows: (1) geographical location, (2) industrial sector (Standard Industrial Classification System), (3) stage of the project life cycle and (4) product of the project (construction of a building or development of a new product). The most important and the most useful breakdown is by type of product or deliverable that the project is producing such as building a building, developing a new product, developing new computer software program or performing a maintenance turnaround or outage on a chemical plant or electric generating station.

Each of these types of projects has more in common with other similar projects producing the same type of product than with other types of projects. Conversely there is much less commonality between different types of projects in the same industrial sector or company. For example there is much more commonality between projects for developing a new software system in a construction company and a bank than there is between three projects in the same bank for constructing a new building, developing a new product and developing a new computer software system.

Abstract  Abstract

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