The Recent History of The Word "Project"
When the English language initially adopted the word "project", it referred to a plan of something, not to the act of carrying this plan out. The use expanded to include both the planning and the implementation phases in the 1950s, when several techniques for project management were introduced. In the late 1960s, several associations were founded around the practice of project management. Most notable were the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in Vienna, founded in 1965, and the Project Management Institute (PMI) in Philadelphia, established in 1969. One of their initial aims was to outline common definitions and best practices.
PMI defines a project as:
"A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result."
However, PMI has recently elaborated on the description of a project is as follows:
"A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources. And a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal. So a project team often includes people who don't usually work together sometimes from different organizations and across multiple geographies. The development of software for an improved business process, the construction of a building or bridge, the relief effort after a natural disaster, the expansion of sales into a new geographic market all are projects. And all must be expertly managed to deliver the on-time, on-budget results, learning and integration that organizations need."
Other formal definitions of a project include:
- "A project is a unique set of processes consisting of coordinated and controlled activities with start and finish dates, undertaken to achieve an objective. Achievement of the project objective requires deliverables conforming to specific requirements including multiple constraints such as time, cost and resources" (ISO 21500 Guidance on project management).
- "A project is a managed set of interrelated resources that delivers one or more products to a customer or end user. The set of resources has a definite beginning and end and operates according to a plan" (Software Engineering Institute).
- "A project is a time and cost constrained operation to realize a set of defined deliverables (the scope to fulfill the project's objectives) up to quality standards and requirements" (International Project Management Association).
- "A temporary organization that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to a specified Business Case" (Office of Government Commerce UK).
- "A project is a unique, transient endeavor undertaken to achieve planned objectives" (Association for Project Management).
As you have probably noticed, most of the official definitions tend to be quite technical, wordy and difficult to understand for the non-advanced individual. This partly explains why project management has largely been considered a technical and tactical practice, far from the strategic themes in management and leadership.
My own definition aims to develop a more universal common understanding:
"A project is a proven method of bringing ideas into reality. It has a purpose, aiming at solving a problem or creating something new. It is unique by nature even if it has been done before, some elements will be different.
It also (often) requires a team of mixed skills and expertise and demands a project leader to drive the team. It is constrained by time (has an end date or finish line), budget (funds and resources) and design (ambition and quality). A project has to address often through intensive communication individual, collective and cultural behaviors (amongst the stakeholders)."
2. PMI-PMBOK 6th Edition, PA, 2017, Section 1.2.1
3. What is Project Management? (Project Management Institute), accessed 2 October 2018, https://www.pmi.org/about/learn-about-pmi/what-is-project-management
4. ISO 21500:2012 Guidance on project management.
5. Tim Kasse, Practical Insight into CMMI (Norwood, MA: Artech House), 2008).
6. IPMA Competence Baseline version 3.0 (International Project Management Association, 2006), accessed 4 October 2018, https://www.aipm.com.au/documents/aipm-key-documents/ipma_pm_assessment_competence_baseline.aspx.
7. Nigel Bennett, Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 (Norwich: The Stationery Office, 2017).
8. Project Management (Association for Project Management), accessed 4 October 2018, https://www.apm.org.uk/body-of-knowledge/context/governance/project-management.