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What is a project?

Project is a frequently used word, particularly in relationship to achieving organisational goals and objectives, such as the sale of goods and services, the development of a new project, the building of a new company house, the construction of a bridge and the development of a software.

To explore what a ‘project’ might entail, let’s start by examining how this term is described in the literature and by professional bodies.

Wallace (2002) defines a project as ‘a one-off process with a single definable end result or product’. A project can therefore be regarded as a ‘planned work’ (Cambridge Dictionary 2008) or an ‘individual or collective enterprise that is carefully planned and designed to achieve a particular aim’ (Oxford Dictionary 2001). The key word common to these last two definitions is ‘planned’, which suggests that a project really can be any activity in life that requires an organised approach.

This table explores the definition of ‘project’ by professional bodies.

Author(s) Definition
APM Bok (2012)
Association for Project Management
The UK’s largest professional body for project management
A project is a unique, transient endeavour undertaken to achieve planned objectives
PMI Bok (2004)
The world’s largest project management professional association
A project is a temporary endeavour, having a defined beginning and end undertaken to meet unique goals and objectives, usually to bring about beneficial change or added value
British Standard 6079 (2000)
The United Kingdom standards for a project
A unique set of coordinated activities, with definite starting and finishing point, and understanding by an individual or organisation to meet specific performance objectives within defined schedule, cost and performance parameters
CIOB (2010)
Chartered Institute of Building
Unique process, consisting of a set of coordinated and controlled activities with start and finish dates undertaken to achieve an objective conforming to specific requirements including constraints of time, cost and resources
Project Management Association of Japan (2005) A project refers to a value creation undertaking based on a specific mission, which is completed in a given or agreed timeframe and under constraints including resources and external circumstances
PRINCE 2 (2009)
Project in Controlled Environment
UK government standard for project management
A management environment that is created for purpose of delivering one or more business products according to a specified business case and a temporary organisation that is needed to produce a unique and predefined outcome or result at a given time using predetermined resource
CMAA (2010)
Construction Management Association of America
Project is a total effort required in all phases from conception through design and construction to accomplish the owner’s objective

(Source: adapted from Agyekum-Mensah 2013)

From these definitions, we can deduce that projects involve planning and can encounter some constraints associated with that planning. In construction such constraints include time, cost and quality.

Your task

Do these definitions align with your previous understanding?

Can you describe a project you have been involved with using one or more of these definitions?

Share your thoughts with other learners in the comments area.


Agyekum-Mensah, G. (2013) The Development of an Innovative and Sustainable Total Planning and Control System for Construction Projects, PhD Thesis. SADBE. Nottingham: The Nottingham Trent University

Cambridge Dictionaries (2018) Project [online] available from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/ [27 February 2018]

Pearsall, J. (ed.) (2001) The Concise Oxford Dictionary. 10 edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Roberts, A. and Wallace, W. (2002) Project Management. UK: Edinburgh Business School, Herriot Watt University

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Research for Construction Management

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