Project Definition: The Meaning of a Project

Updated Oct 24, 2022.

Proper project definition in project management is valuable. There is so much focus on the various aspects of project management but little attention to the basics.

Without first defining your projects, you will struggle to properly apply project management concepts to your existing or new projects. With this knowledge, project managers or stakeholders can easily learn more complex project management concepts.

This article teaches you everything you need to know about a project, including the characteristics and types of projects and how to implement a project successfully.

Project Definition: Characteristics of a Project

A project (noun) refers to any planned undertaking. Every project creates a unique and new output. Agile projects consist of tasks and activities designed specifically to achieve a specific goal, aim, or objective.

The project scope and size of a project determine if it will be simple or elaborate. You can break down every project into two: project objectives and the tasks needed to achieve them.

Certain characteristics describe an ambitious project setting.

  • Defined Start and End Date: Every project has a defined commencement and due date, which helps provide a definite structure.
  • Definite and Distinct Structure: Every project you embark on is unique and special due to its distinct approach to achieving set goals and objectives. Two projects might have similar objectives but would differ in their approach to achieving them.
  • Boundaries: Certain factors constrain a project, such as time and money. These constraints act as boundaries.

Types of Projects

A project aims to serve various purposes depending on its plans. One project tends to differ from the other on account of implementation.

1. Traditional Project

A traditional or waterfall project refers to such a task or project that systematically goes through the five phases of a project life cycle, from the project initiation phase to the planning phase to the project execution phase to the project monitoring phase, and the project closing phase.

Any large or major undertaking involving considerable money, equipment, and workforce, usually falls under this category. An example of a traditional project is a high-cost infrastructure project like building a skyscraper.

61% mostly or always apply a defined project methodology

2. Agile Project

Agile projects are peculiar to the software development industry, whose focus is largely on individuals rather than infrastructure. Any software project falls under this category of project.

3. Remote Project

This type of project usually involves off-site function as there is little or no physical interaction between project team members. The freelance project world is an example of a remote project.

4. Agency Project

Agency projects are similar to remote projects; you outsource them remotely or in person. However, for agency projects, you do not outsource projects to anyone but to agencies. Projects about marketing and design fall under this type of project.

The Boundaries of a Project

In the overall setup and build-up to every project, constraints always plague every project process.

In project management, these constraints are the boundaries of a project. These boundaries act as an efficient containment mechanism in ensuring projects’ do not derail from their set goals and objectives.

Here are some of the boundaries that constrain every project.

  • Project Scope
  • Project Schedule
  • Project Team
  • Project Resources

The outcome of every project is its deliverables. A project boundary determines whether a project will meet its set goals and objectives and deliver its final deliverable.

The outcome of every project is its deliverables
Source: ResearchGate

Key Project Terms to Know

Despite the variety in terms of project types associated with projects, some terms are constant irrespective of the type of project.

1. Project Lifecycle

Project lifecycle refers to the entirety of the project process. It comprises the five key project implementation phases. They are the crucial phases that all projects must pass through to complete a project successfully.

From the project’s initiation phase to its planning, execution, and monitoring phases, down to its closure phase, these five phases are what give the project's future a definite purpose and direction.

2. Project Scope

The project scope is a key project detail discussed and agreed on at the project’s initial planning stage. It discloses all the expected outcomes and factors that play a part in achieving them.

A standard project scope comprises the following:

  • Set goals and objectives
  • A list of expected deliverables from the project
  • Tasks to embark on
  • Various milestones
IT Project Scope Template
Source: Smartsheet

3. Project Stakeholder

Project stakeholders are all individuals who play a part in the outcome of projects from the project initiation phase to the closing phase.

Stakeholders have different roles and responsibilities that distinguish them from one another. They are all important in their respect to the project’s outcome.

A project manager defines the role of each stakeholder. Effective stakeholder management is crucial to the project’s success.

4. Project Deliverable

Deliverables refer to the likely and expected outcome that the project can deliver. The term deliverable is a wide concept, ranging from material or physical products to non-material ones.

5. Project Milestone

Project milestones are sets of pre-determined accomplishments that help keep tabs on the project's progress. You set these accomplishments before the project’s execution phase.

Milestones assist your team in keeping tabs on the project’s deliverables to ensure they meet the project’s goals and objectives. Without the aid of milestones, your team will struggle to find the project’s progress.

6. Project Resources

Resources are the driving force that ensures the project makes it through the execution phase. They can either be in the form of material resources such as equipment or non-material like time, labor, or capital investment.

7. Project Dependencies

Project dependencies have to do with the relationship between two or more tasks in a project where the initiation and completion of one task determine the success of the other.

Allocating and sharing already limited project resources across various project life-cycle phases can be tasking. Project managers ensure the project resources are sufficient enough for the entirety of the project’s lifecycle.

What it Means to Work on a Project

Being a part of a project simply means you are part of the team of stakeholders involved in various phases of the project. The list of project stakeholders usually comprises several individuals playing both active and somewhat dormant roles in the project operations.

Those working on a project include the client or project sponsor, the brain of the project, the project manager in charge of the administrative control of the project operations, and other stakeholders who work for the project's success.

The actions of one stakeholder, such as turning up or submitting their assigned task late, can directly impact the project process's desired outcome.

Every stakeholder should feel an important part of the project. Ensure they are comfortable dispensing their duties and obligations to contribute to project success.

Project managers are responsible for providing the right atmosphere for inter-stakeholder communication and collaboration.

What is Project Management?

Project management is the proper and thorough control of the activities of a project from its inception stage down to its delivery stage.

Project Management Institute (PMI) Definition

PMI defines project management as “the use of specific knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to deliver something of value to people.

Why is Project Management Important
Source: GreyCampus

What Does a Project Manager Do?

The job description of a project manager involves the complete oversight of all activities and operation of the project process across all stages of the project cycle.

In addition to the team leader role, a project manager supervises the day-to-day running of the project.

Project Managers Roles

  • Regular scheduling of meetings
  • Assigning tasks to project stakeholders
  • Creating a well-defined project plan
  • Provide a statutory update to the project sponsor on the level of progress of the project at fixed time intervals.

The bulk of the project process's responsibility falls on a project manager's shoulders.

When is a Project Considered a Success?

For a project to be a success, it is not enough to meet its due date. There are certain criteria that the project has to meet to become a success.

  • Does It Meet Business Requirements? No matter how fast you complete the project, it is not a success until it ticks the business requirement boxes.
  • Is It Delivered on Schedule and on a Budget? For most types of projects, meeting pre-set deadlines with the available resources is the criteria for a successful project.

The criteria for determining the success of a project solely depends on the type of project you are embarking on.

Defining the criteria for the success of a project is best during the initiation and planning stages to provide a sense of direction for the agile team.

Project Definition: Best Practices for Project Management

Every successful project is due to following certain best practices. No project can be a success without following the necessary steps needed for effective project management.

1. Set Regular Check-ins

Always keep taps on various stakeholders involved in the project process. Regularly schedule meetings as part of the project plan on inception. It becomes relatively much harder to schedule meetings during project execution due to the buzz and rush of meeting deadlines.

2. Delegate Tasks Appropriately

By delegating tasks appropriately, the project gets a definite look and clarifies all the processes and who is responsible for what.

As a project manager, you must balance the team, their individual and collective roles, and their involvement in the project’s success. Use task management software to help you delegate tasks appropriately to the right team members.

3. Build a Close Relationship with the Project Team

As with any team, relationship tensions and disparities are likely to occur. As a project manager, you must settle various tensions as the project process unfolds.

Take a more proactive measure in preventing these issues by creating a free and convenient environment for all project stakeholders to air their views and express their grievances. A conducive project environment ensures a perfect working relationship among the team.

4. Celebrate Milestones

Milestones are important stages reached in a project process. You must celebrate these points to serve as a welcome boost to your team that they are on the right track.

How to Implement a Project?

A project has a successful implementation through the five phases of the project management life cycle.

  • Project Initiation: This phase is the first phase of the project management life cycle and the convincing phase. In the project initiation phase, you pitch your ideas to the project stakeholders and create the project plan.
  • Project Planning: After receiving the green light from key project stakeholders, the project planning phase is the next. It involves rigorous planning and strategizing on the best methods to utilize available resources.
  • Project Execution: This phase is the most crucial, where the implementations of the project plans happen. For successful project execution, following a project schedule is essential.
  • Project Monitoring: The project monitoring phase goes on simultaneously with the execution phase. It is crucial to ensure the project meets its set goals and objectives appropriately.
  • Project Closure: This phase gives purpose to the project. The project closure is the phase where you deliver the project’s outcome to the client.

Your projects can only be successfully implemented if you complete these important phases.

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Anastasia Belyh

Editor at FounderJar

Anastasia has been a professional blogger and researcher since 2014. She loves to perform in-depth software reviews to help software buyers make informed decisions when choosing project management software, CRM tools, website builders, and everything around growing a startup business.

Anastasia worked in management consulting and tech startups, so she has lots of experience in helping professionals choosing the right business software.