Project management tips.

What is a Project?


What is a Project?

The term project is used a lot. I think it’s safe to say that most people understand what the term means, in general. But it’s always a good idea to be certain so here is my working definition. A project is:

  1. something that is contemplated, devised, or planned
  2. something that is undertaken; something you do, either large or small
  3. something that has a clear, unique objective or desired outcome
  4. something that has a clear start, middle and an end

In a sentence, a project is something that you plan and do, usually in a series of steps, to achieve a specific objective or outcome within a specific timeframe.

Let’s look at a few examples to examine the types of efforts that qualify as projects…and those that do not:

Writing this blog post?

I thought about writing this post. I planned a time to sit down and write it. I organized a few thoughts in my head before I began. My main objective was to write an introductory post for my new blog so I could get rid of that infamous “Hello World!” post. My secondary objective was to write something that would be somewhat educational for those who have heard the term project but may not necessarily live in projectland on a daily basis. I set aside one hour to write this blog post today. Finally, I drafted, reviewed and published this blog post. So…was writing this blog post a project? In short, yes. It meets the criteria so it was, in fact, a project.

So that brings up a question. Does something have to be complex to be a project? Quite simply, no. Something really simple like writing a blog post can be and is a project. But what about something like…

Picking up a pen?

Look at the criteria in my working definition. Is picking up a pen something that is (or can be) contemplated, devised or planned? Yes. Is it something you do, either large or small? Yes. Does is have a clear, unique objective? Yes, probably to enable you to write something (or perhaps to defend yourself if your name is Jason Bourne). What about a clear start, middle and end? Uh…no. There is no start, middle and end point in picking up a pen. You just pick up the pen. And, by way of this illustration, that’s the difference between a task and a project. Picking up a pen is a task. Combine the task pick up a pen with other tasks and you might have yourself a project: plan a trip to the grocery store, pick up a sheet of paper, pick up a pen, write a list of items “To Buy” on the sheet of paper with the pen, take the “To Buy” list to the grocery store, purchase groceries on the “To Buy” list, mark items off the list as they are purchased, etc. That is starting to look more like a project. Add a clear objective (feeding the family so they don’t starve?), set a timeframe for achieving the goal (tonight would be good!) and this example is well on its way to becoming a project.

What about something that is really complex like…

Living life?

Let’s look at the criteria again. Is living life something that can be planned? Well, yes…and no. You can and certainly should plan elements of your life but not all of it. For example, you cannot plan when you will be born. Is living life something you do? Yes. Is there a clear, unique objective? Yes, there can be. Is there a start, middle and end? Yes. But is it clear? No. Again, you cannot plan your own start. Technically, your parents can pick a birth date but now we’re getting really, really technical so let’s just say, “No.” Similarly, you can plan your own end but, for the most part, you do not plan your own end. In summary, living life can be a project but, practically speaking, it is not a project.

There’s a lot of room between picking up a pen and living life. And that’s the space we’re going to explore on this site because that’s the space where projects live. Projects are bigger than picking up pens and smaller than living life. A project is something you plan, something you do, something that achieves a particular goal or objective, something that is started, is executed and is ended.

And they are a great way to achieve success.


About the Author

Dave Coddington

​In addition to actively service clients in various project management roles, I am privileged to lead the great team we have at Project Outlier. I am a strategist, an entrepreneur and a creative. I have an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and Economics and an MBA with an emphasis in Information Systems Management. You can find more about me by visiting my personal blog, and I’d love to connect with you on Link​edIn

By |December 4th, 2012|Tips|0 Comments|