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Developing a concise definition of a Project

"Chance favours the prepared mind".
Louis Pasteur

Keywords: project, project definition, stakeholder management, stakeholder community, project management, PMBOK® Guide.

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Developing a consensus on the precise definition of a 'project'.

The defining what is a project (and what is not a project) is an important stage in the development of project management as a profession. Patrick Weaverhas been working on achieving a more precise definition for several years.  His original 2002 paper, Project Fact or Fiction (Will the real Projects please stand up!), is below, more current debates can be found at:  

Project Fact or Fiction (Will the real Projects please stand up!) [P007]

The definition of "projects" used by almost every authority is an inclusive definition ie; "a project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result" PMBOK 2000©. This definition can apply equally well to genuine projects, other endeavours (Paul C. Dinsmore "Everything in business is a project or project-related"1) and to processes that are definitely not projects.

Before the true value of projects to an enterprise can be properly assessed and the responsibilities of a Project Manager identified, the definition of "projects" must be tightened so that endeavours that are not projects are excluded as effectively as endeavours that are projects are included. The addition to the definition of a "project" proposed in this paper is: "a project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result which the relevant stakeholders agree shall be managed as a project".

The effects of this addition to the definition of a project include: -

  1. Where the stakeholder group choose not to have a project, the endeavour is managed in some other way.

  2. Where the stakeholder group choose to buy into a projectised process, they also ipso facto agree to accept the processes and disciplines imposed by project management.

  3. The vital importance of Stakeholder Management in the overall project management process is recognised.

  4. The role of standard project processes and documentation (eg WBS, Schedule, etc) is refocussed from a search for some absolute truth to the search for stakeholder consensus on the way the project will be undertaken.

Under the enhanced definition proposed in this paper, a project can only exist if its Stakeholder Community agrees. Therefore, knowing the relative importance of the different stakeholders (and stakeholder groups) to the overall project becomes important (see papers on the Stakeholder Circle). The outcome to be expected from bringing the Stakeholder Community directly into the project management processes, as described in this paper, is to ensure more projects deliver to their full potential to the benefit of their host organisations and the community.

Authors: Patrick Weaver and Dr. L Bourne

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