What is a Project?

John Williams

In December 2019 we did a little campaign demonstrating that not every organisation labels a project as such. ProjExc is a project management consultancy. We’ve been leading projects, and helping organisations to do their project management better for decades. It’s not surprising that we know what a project is. Occasionally we are reminded though that not everyone knows what a project is, let alone what type of project they might be dealing with. This matters though because, if you are to be successful, how you approach your endeavour needs to suit the circumstance.

Definitions
The Association for Project Management (APM)s core reference the PM Body of Knowledge (PMBoK) says that “a project is a unique transient endeavour undertaken to bring about a change and to achieve planned objectives.” The key points here are that it is a piece of work that has a very clear start and end, that delivers a new capability that is defined and tangible.

What is not a Project?
Put simply, if your endeavour isn’t a project, the chances are it’s business as usual (BaU) activity.

Project LifeCycle
All projects will work through a very simple lifecycle: They start with definition and planning. While the plan is being executed, it will be controlled, and once the deliverables are accepted the project will be closed. Planning, Controlling and Closing are project management tasks. The core activities of the project itself is the execution of the plan, and these activities will have clear characteristics depending on the type of the project. I see that there are 3 main types of project, but some projects will be a combination of the types.

Types of Project
Projects can usually be characterised as transformation (or change), new product introduction, or delivery. Here I’ll attempt to outline the different characteristics and provide some examples. Be aware that different sectors/industries may well have slightly different terminologies.

Transformation or Change Projects
These projects will see an organisation deliver a transformation or change of some kind. They may be a unique project in their own right, or in simple terms may consist a programme of projects and BaU activity (look elsewhere on the website for explanation of the differences between projects, programmes and portfolios).

Typically, at a very high level, the project execution will work through the phases of: Business Needs; Concept & Design; Training & Implementation; Post-Implementation.

Examples might include: Office Relocation, Digital Transformation, Merger/Acquisition, New System Introduction.

New Product Introduction Projects
These projects will oversee the introduction of new products/services. Typically, at a high level, the project will work through the phases of: Ideation; Orientation; Concept Definition; Product Development; Product Preparation; Product Realisation; Business Operations. Normally these phases are punctuated with key milestones or stage gates. Depending on the nature of the project, agile or a hybrid-agile product development is becoming increasingly popular.

Delivery Projects
These projects will often be characterised as contracts or jobs, but they will usually deliver something for a client. Typically the stages will be:
Requirements; Design; Development; Testing; Deployment; Commence Support. Often these projects will form part of a client change project/programme.

Examples might include: a new building, a new piece or system of capital equipment, a new client website.