J.M. Juran defined a project as “a problem scheduled for a solution.”
Wikipedia defines a project this way… “A project in business and science is a collaborative enterprise, frequently involving research or design, that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim.”
SoftwareProjects.org defines a project as this… “A project, by definition, is a temporary activity with a starting date, specific goals and conditions, defined responsibilities, a budget, a planning, a fixed end date and multiple parties involved.”
Dictionary.com defines a project as “a large or major undertaking, especially one involving considerable money, personnel, and equipment.”
This last one makes me smile. A project can be small, but dictionary.com must think it has to be monumental in order to really be considered a project. As we understand it, just about anything can be a project – from a project to sell a business unit (I’ve led one of these) to a project implementing a detailed software solution (every IT project manager has led one of these). The key concept – by most definitions and in my view – is that it has to be a defined activity with a starting date and an ending date. An activity that happens over and over again is not a project. Projects are one-time occurrences, though many project are similar. The temporary nature of projects stands in contrast to on-going business activities which are repetitive, permanent or semi-permanent functional work to produce products or services.
The next question, then, that begs to be answered is this… Does managing a project require different skills than management in general? Does it require different skills than those required to manage ongoing, recurring business operations activities? The answer is yes…but why?
Managing one-time, unique project activities requires that there be a process in place to follow in order to be efficient and effective. With recurring business activities, there is a known situation – much like ‘been there, done that.’ Indeed we are taking on activities and managing tasks that have happened before – that happen daily. We’ve done it before so we know what to do.