Reading through the contributions in this series of papers, it is clear that contributors not only often have different interpretations of the original question but also of the project management terms being used. Principle among these appears to be the use of the word "project". Sometimes it seems that people are referring to the work of managing the project (i.e. project management) and sometimes to the project's outcome (i.e. the product or deliverable).
However, in the view of some contributors, "project" is also used to represent the much broader view of achieving some business owner or sponsor's overall business "benefit". This could be something like improved effectiveness or efficiency of operations, an increased financial return, a change in operating mode, even a change in culture of the organization. Obviously, there are many possible beneficial outcomes to be achieved.
We suggest that as a professional discipline, we should be advocating for the use of specific meanings applied to our project management technical terms. If we want terms such as "project" to represent broader concepts, then we should review, revise and update the definitions of those terms accordingly. Alternatively, to avoid the confusion, we should find new labels to represent these alternative views. Anything less certainly falls short of "best practice"!
The meaning of the word "project"
So to start with, let us examine some of these problematic definitions. First, of course, is the term "project" as we have just mentioned. According to the latest PMBOK® Guide, a project is:
"A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result."
This definition is very broad and could be interpreted as applying to a wide range of activities. The "temporary endeavor" and "result" could span from simply responding to, and submitting, an examination paper, to something more enduring like collecting data and creating a paper like this one. There is no indication of the size, scope and complexity of the effort involved, especially in the case of "large" projects and in different "areas of application".
Of course a number of more elaborate definitions have been proposed over the years, but we think that the definition presented in the original 1987 Body of Knowledge is more informative. It reads as follows:
"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."
This definition clearly identifies a project life span with a start and a defined finish. It also highlights some of the principle challenges involved in accomplishing a typical project. Either way, the intent is that the project goes no further than the delivery of a product (service or result).
Why do we think this is one of the better definitions? Because it does not preclude front-end stage-gated phases but it does conclude with the delivery (and transfer) of the product. This is consistent with most formal external contracts as well as informal internal understandings. And why is this so in practice? Because the next phase in the life c of the product falls under operations management that requires a different style of management and a different mindset.
1. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) Fifth Edition, Project Management Institute, Inc., PA, USA, 2013, Glossary, p553
2. Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), Project Management Institute, Inc., PA, USA, 1987, Glossary, p22