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What Is a Project?

Watch the video to learn from Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne what a project is.
When I say projects, what do you think about? Which projects come to your mind? Well, if you’re like me, you might think of personal projects, like your school assignment, or maybe a research project that you’re engaged in. But these days a lot of us also think about new product development projects. Let’s look at a few examples. Maybe we think about the development of a new airplane, like the Airbus 380 or the development of the new car like the Tesla. A project might be thinking about a drug development project from molecule to shelf. Or maybe the development of a new personal device, like the iPhone.
We might also think about a project that has to do with putting up a website, or a service online, like But some of us might also be thinking about mega projects. Construction projects. Landmarks that we think about and visit so readily. For instance, the Sydney Opera House, or maybe the pyramids in Egypt. We might also think about recent projects, like London Heathrow’s Terminal Five construction, T5. Maybe the ongoing project that we might even go and see that is taking place in New York City at the site of the World Trade Center. The New York City’s new transportation hub. These are mega projects. But there is a different type of project that some of us might be thinking about.
How about events or festivals? For instance, organizing something as complicated as the FIFA World Cup, or maybe, shooting a film, from script to cinema. Organizing a festival for thousands and thousands of movie goers to come and see, something like the Cannes Film Festival. That’s a project. And finally, another example might be the production of a Broadway show. These are all great examples of projects. They’re very different in nature. Personal projects, new product development projects, mega project, contra, construction projects, or events and performances. So what do they all have in common? And why are they all considered to be projects? Well, projects all have a specific and a unique aim. A product or service that they are going to develop.
They are temporary. They have a specific start and a date, and an end date.
They have a temporary organization. Temporary group of individuals who are engaged in that activity associated with that specific project. They require multi-disciplinary coordination. Individuals with different set of expertise from different locations. All coming together for the purposes of that specific project. They’re also constrained by time, cost, and resources.
Let’s look at a few formal definitions of what a project is. This will help us think about how do we plan projects, how do we execute projects, and what is the goal in project management?
Here’s one example of a definition from the Harvard Business Review. The Harvard Business Review talks about a unique set of activities, meant to produce a defined outcome within an established time frame, using specific allocation of resources. A slightly different definition comes from the Project Management Institute, where they talk about a project as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service. We see temporary and unique.
So if these are common traits of projects and these are common features that projects exhi, exhibit, what is not a project? What around us that is not considered a project? Well, here’s a few examples of things that we might want to think about that are not projects. The manufacturing process of a new car, or of some type of clothing item. Those are not projects, those are routine ongoing operations. The routine processing of certain applications, such as insurance applications, or job applications, are not projects. They are not temporary, and they do not have a unique set of individuals that come together for the purpose of that specific project.
What does it matter that we clarify what is a project and what is not a project? Well, there are several reasons why it’s important. First, if we define a project properly, then we can find the correct tools to use when we plan and execute projects. In addition, projects and processes, they might have different objectives. And therefore, we’re going to measure their success on different criteria. Finally, all the projects have the feature that they are supposedly unique. They have certain traits that come with being unique and being temporary. And we can cater for those and we can plan accordingly.
And so today we saw what common features all projects have, what is not a project and why it is important to distinguish between the two.

Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne discusses in this video what a project is, and what factors projects have in common. As you watch the video think about the following:

What are some examples of projects that you have worked on recently, or in the past? Were these mega-projects, personal projects, product development projects?

Are the commonalities of projects discussed in this video true of your projects as well? These commonalities included:

  1. Create a specific and unique product or service
  2. Temporary (Specific start and finish and temporary organization)
  3. Require multi-disciplinary coordination
  4. Constrained by time, cost, or resources
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Fundamentals of Project Planning and Management

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