1 Project Management (PM) Definition


A project has distinctive attributes that distinguish it from ongoing work or business operations. Specifically, projects are temporary in nature. Therefore, they are not an everyday business process but they are unique and have definitive start dates and end dates. This characteristic is important because a large part of the project effort is dedicated to ensuring that the project is completed at the appointed time. To do this, schedules are created showing when tasks should begin and end. Projects can last minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years.

Projects exist to bring about a product or service that has not existed before. In this sense, a project is unique. Unique means that this is new; it has never been done before. Maybe it’s been done in a very similar fashion before but never exactly in this way. For example, although the Ford Motor Company is in the business of designing and assembling many kinds of vehicles, each model that Ford designs and produces can be considered a unique project. The models differ from each other in their features and are marketed to people with various needs. An SUV serves a different purpose and clientele than a luxury car. The design and marketing of these two models are unique projects. However, the actual assembly of the cars is considered an operation (i.e., a repetitive process that is followed for most makes and models).


When a group of projects are arranged towards achieving certain goal this said to be a program. It is collection of small projects to deliver or achieve certain higher goal. The simplest example for program is the degree program in a school or college, where multiple courses correspond to the projects. In this a program will be completed when all projects are completed and the certificate/degree is awarded.


In contrast with projects, operations are ongoing and repetitive. They involve work that is continuous without an ending date and with the same processes repeated to produce the same results. The purpose of operations is to keep the organization functioning while the purpose of a project is to meet its goals and objectives. Therefore, operations are ongoing while projects are unique and temporary.

A project is completed when its goals and objectives are accomplished. It is these goals that drive the project, and all the planning and implementation efforts undertaken to achieve them. Sometimes projects end when it is determined that the goals and objectives cannot be accomplished or when the product or service of the project is no longer needed and the project is cancelled.

Definition of a Project

There are many written definitions of a project. All of them contain the key elements described above. However, for those looking for a formal definition of a project, the Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. The temporary nature of projects indicates a definite beginning and end. The end is reached when the project’s objectives have been achieved or when the project is terminated because its objectives will not or cannot be met, or when the need for the project no longer exists.

The term “project” is used several ways in popular culture, from describing everyday tasks (planting a garden, hanging a picture, running errands) to large scale enterprises (building a house, constructing a new highway). However, when professional project managers talk about projects, they use a narrower definition. Let’s start out with the six defining characteristics of a project. Just about every book, organization, or standards body in the project management field agrees that a project:

  1. is a temporary endeavor, with a defined start and end.
  2. has a specific objective.
  3. has customers or stakeholders.
  4. has constraints, such as time, cost and scope.
  5. has measures for success.
  6. includes some amount of uncertainty.

Watch the video: What is a Project for more information on how these six aspects help define what a project is and is not.

Operations vs. Projects

Projects are different from ongoing operations, even though some techniques (such as network diagramming) overlap. Project management addresses temporary endeavors, with a start and end date, while operations management focuses on improving ongoing operations. For example, constructing a new factory is a project, while producing bicycle tires in that factory is an operation. This textbook concentrates on traditional project management techniques. Adaptations related to Agile project management, which is often used for software development, are mentioned along the way, but Agile is not a main topic in this chapter. It is discussed in chapter 14.

Text Attributions

This chapter of Project Management is a derivative the following texts:

Essentials of Project Management by Adam Farag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Project Management (PM) Definition Copyright © by Sharon Blanchard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.