What Is a Project?

Published: 2009-03-08
Last updated: 2022-03-19

What is a project? ... Here is what we find in Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary.


  1. a specific plan or design
  2. (obsolete) idea
  3. a planned undertaking
  4. a definitely formulated piece of research
  5. a large usually government-supported undertaking
  6. a task or problem engaged in usually by a group of students to supplement and apply classroom studies
  7. a group of houses or apartments built and arranged according to a single plan
As synonym we could use the term 'plan'."

Taking this definition, it surprises us why we still encounter so many projects that do not have sufficient plans, sometimes none at all. However, definitions 3 and 4 indicate that a project is a planned undertaking.

Let us see what we find in a more business-oriented context: what is a project?

Definition of "Project"

"A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result",

quoted from Project Management Institute (PMI): A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Third Edition (PMBoK® Guide), 2004.

"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",

quoted from International Project Management Association (IPMA): IPMA Competence Baseline, Version 3.0 (ICB 3.0), 2006.

These quotes give us the answer to our question: what is a project? A project is an endeavor

  • that produces a clearly specified product, service, or result
  • in a limited period of time
  • within a limited budget.

We consider this being virtually the same as the definition we are using throughout this web site: a project is an endeavor unique in scope, schedule, and budget.

Triple Constraint of Project ManagementTriple Constraint of Project Management

After answering the question, what is a project, we ask: What is project management? ... We try again Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. First, we look up the term "management" and find


  1. the act or art of managing: the conducting or supervising of something (as a business)
  2. judicious use of means to accomplish an end
  3. (...)
  4. (...)"

Then, we combine this with the definition of the term "project" and obtain: "Project management" is conducting or supervising a project, by judicious use of means to accomplish an end of that project. This definition comes quite close to what we find in a more business-oriented context.

Definition of "Project Management"

"Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements",

quoted from PMI: PMBoK® Guide, Third Edition, 2004.

The PMBoK® Guide gives us then a process-oriented view of project management:
initiating – planning – executing / monitoring / controlling – closing

On this web site, we define project management - in a similar way - as a process that consists of 4 basic process phases. These four phases are:

  1. definition phase
  2. planning phase
  3. implementation phase
  4. closure phase

Project Management ProcessProject Management Process

Coming back to our opening question: what is a project? – Here is our example: The initial construction of this web site is a project.


Construct a web site around the subject "Project Management Know-how" that explains the basics of project management, offers tools, templates, information, and tips for successful project management, with at least 75 major elements (i.e. pages, white papers, templates, demos).


Project start date is January 01, 2009; project completion date is August 31, 2009.


under 600 working hours.

Current Status, as of July 27, 2009:

Scope: 52 elements complete
Schedule: planned value PV = 504, earned value EV = 416;
Budget: actual cost AC = 380;
SPI = EV/PV = 0.83
CPI = EV/AC = 1.09

Current Status, as of August 09, 2009:

Scope: 61 elements complete
Schedule: planned value PV = 540, earned value EV = 488;
Budget: actual cost AC = 446;
SPI = EV/PV = 0.90
CPI = EV/AC = 1.09

Current Status, as of September 03, 2009:

Scope: 61 elements complete
Schedule: planned value PV = 600, earned value EV = 488;
Budget: actual cost AC = 450;
SPI = EV/PV = 0.81
CPI = EV/AC = 1.08
Remark: Due to an additional, unplanned two-week assignment in August I had to interrupt work on this site. Therefore, I provided Extension of Time (EOT) by two months.
New completion date: October 31, 2009.

Final Status Report, as of October 31, 2009:

Scope: 75 elements complete
Schedule: planned value PV = 600, earned value EV = 600;
Budget: actual cost AC = 635;
SPI = EV/PV = 1.00
CPI = EV/AC = 0.94
Remark: Upon providing an Extension of Time (EOT) by two months, I change the schedule baseline. Thus, I created a new reference for the completion date. But I left the "budget" of 600 hours unchanged since I only interrupted my work. That does not automatically justify an additional effort or budget.
Project "Initial Construction of this Web Site" is complete.

35+ templates, tools, and checklists in one set

To save you time in your daily work as a project manager, I packaged more than 35 project management templates, tools, and checklists into one zip file.

  • You un-zip it, and you get all items in formats you can edit to your requirements.
  • They strictly contain only standard functionality and no macros or other code.
  • You are allowed to use your logo.
Templates & Checklists for Implementation and Closure Phase
for only
or click here for more info.

Traditional PM
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