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What Is a Project

What Is a Project

Though we just studied the phrase software project management through dictionary definitions and professional standards organizations descriptions, the individual terms are important enough to bear further investigation.

Two noted authors of MBA textbooks and specialized courses in project management present these definitions of "project":

Harold Kerzner describes a project to be any series of activities or tasks that have a specific objective to be completed within certain specifications, have defined start and end dates, have funding limits (if applicable), and consume resources (i.e., money, people, equipment).

James Lewis views a project as a one-time job that has definite starting and ending points, clearly defined objectives, scope, and (usually) a budget; differentiated from repetitive activities such as production, order processing, and so on; a special activity with very tactical goals.

Given these definitions, we can see how the well-known "PM Triangle" (following figure "The Project Management Triangle") was created. A project strives to deliver a product of a given scope, within a given cost and schedule, with a certain degree of quality. The PM's task is to balance performance (scope), time (schedule), and resources (cost). Yet, there are only so many degrees of freedom - it is unusual that schedule, budget, and quality are abundant in unlimited quantities. We are forced to select only one or two of the qualities as a primary pursuit. This is known in the vernacular as "the good-fast-cheap triangle - pick two".

The Project Management Triangle
We agree with quality guru Joseph Juran that a project is a problem scheduled for solution.

Not specific to software, the Project Management Institute contains a fairly well-received definition in its PMBOK Guide. PMI refers to a project as: a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service with a definite beginning and end, different from ongoing, repetitive operations and requiring progressive elaboration of characteristics.

These project definitions have a few things in common:

Objective. There must be a clearly described goal or set of goals for the project. A project must complete something. If a project has multiple goals, they should be related to each other, and not conflict with one another.

Start and end points. A project is a temporary endeavor. It must have a clearly described beginning and ending, generally expressed as dates. Software maintenance is generally an ongoing operation, not a project, but may have well-defined projects that take place within it, such as specific releases.

Uniqueness. A project is a one-time thing, not generally repeated exactly the same way. This does not mean that repeat performance is not a project. Building a house is generally classified as a project, even though contractors have built millions of houses. Although the pattern and process are basically the same (a template), there are enough disparities in each house (such as lot and location, varying materials, and code and design changes) to differentiate it from others. Otherwise, it becomes an ongoing production line making identical pieces in exactly the same way. The same is true for software professionals - we never build exactly the same software system, although we may copy it or port it.

Constraints. A project has cost, schedule, and quality performance constraints. These are the "big three" of the PM triangle that must be balanced and managed to achieve success.

So, our practical definition of this term in the software development realm is: A project is a unique, temporary endeavor with defined start and end dates to achieve one or more objectives within the constraints of cost, schedule, and quality performance.



Tags

project management, pm triangle, software development
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