The term “project management” has gained much popularity such that it is one of the most searched keywords on the internet and it’s one of the most sought skills by firms. In fact, one of its international certifications – Project Management Professional (PMP) – remains among the top international certifications.

My verified PMP badge from PMI
My verified PMP badge from PMI

But then, many do not really know what exactly is a project. Some naively use it interchangeably with programs while others loosely view it as something that should be classically called “operations”.

A project is a time-bound endeavor that yields a unique product, service or result. It has two qualifying arms: its unique outcome and its time limit.

Projects as an endeavour with a unique outcome:

Take this scenario as an example:

An NGO is popularly known for its activities in sexual and reproductive health. They do these by establishing hubs in various schools in selected towns. As they grew, the board members decided to expand their places of impact by establishing hubs in five other states in their country … now, that’s a project.

It’s a project because these potential hubs are different from the already existing hubs. When they’ll be established, they’ll have different locations, different users, different caretakers, etc. They’re simply unique.

A unique ball depicting the uniqueness of a project

Project outcomes may be tangible such as a “newly developed mobile device” or intangible like “trained staff on XYZ”.

The outcomes may be multiple and could be a combination of any or all of the three possible outcomes above, example: a project designed to train staff on XYZ (service), produce training pamphlets for references (product) and obtain an objective gap measurement of staff’s knowledge on XYZ before and after the training (result).

Projects as a temporary endeavour:

This is the other interesting arm of a project. This temporary nature does not necessarily mean a short duration nor a temporary outcome. Owning to the uniqueness of projects, some have a short duration, others are quite long, some have ultrashort outcomes, others live beyond centuries.

The time-bound nature of a project simply means that it has a beginning and an end.

Different reasons drive the beginning of projects, like business interests, legal concerns, personal interests, social needs etc., in the same way, project endings can be from either the fulfillment of the project’s objectives or any of the above reasons. Whatever be the case, there is a beginning and an end.

In summary:

Projects are awesome ways of achieving individual or organizational goals. When in doubt of what exactly they are, just remember that they drive changes by producing desired unique outcomes over a defined period. Project managers employ the various tools and techniques of project management to properly manage their projects and yield desired outcomes.

Truly yours,

Dr. STM

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