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What is a Project? – Goldilocks Edition

Many people ask the question, “What is a Project?” Every day.
Some people may have first heard of such a thing by finding a job posting on a job board for a project manager.
You are curious to know what a project is. What would you manage to accomplish this task?
Wideman’s Comparative Glossary on Project Management Terms provides many great definitions.
Too Hot
A project in which human, financial, and material resources are organized in a new way to accomplish a unique scope work of given specification within the constraints of time and cost. This is to achieve unitary, positive change through the delivery of quantified as well as qualitative objectives.
-Turner, J.R. The Handbook of Project Based Management: Improving Processes to Achieve Your Strategic Objectives. 1992
This definition seems too restrictive and makes far too many assumptions. A’super dictionary definition’ of what a project should not exclude examples that most managers would consider projects. What if the cost of a project was unlimited? There is always a limit, but what if the project was so important that you couldn’t use all the funding in the time allowed? That could still be a project. What if there are no financial resources available? For example, if you organize an event for a non profit organization in their facilities with no money ever changing hands. That is still a project.
Too cold
Temporary effort to create a new product or service.
– Various original authors are quoted in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (known also as “PMBOK?). 1996
This one sounds great. I can’t deny the truth of this statement, and I can’t think off a single example that would fall outside of this definition of what a project is.
However, I find it too broad.
It’s fine to use as a dictionary definition of the term “project”, but it doesn’t tell enough about project management. According to this definition, painting a unique scene using watercolors is a project. But that’s not what we mean by “project” when we refer to what you manage as project managers.
Just right
A project is a process that involves a whole set of activities. It has a defined starting point and clearly defined objectives. The delivery of these objectives signals the completion of the project. Projects usually require limited resources to be completed.
-Wideman R. M. Cost Control of Capital Projects. BiTech Publishers Ltd. Richmond, BC, Canada 1995
This definition tells me what a project looks like and fits every example that I can think of. It also excludes any examples that might have been overlooked by the “too cold” definition of what a Project is.
What is a project for you? Leave a comment below.

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