What is a project (and why does it matter)? – OPEN

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Topic 1.1: What is a project (and why does it matter)?

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What is a project?
  • Projects are fantastically diverse

    Projects include everything from the posters and dioramas you made at school, to the big trip you recently went on and the dream home you one day hope to build.

  • Projects are found in every industry

    Projects span agriculture and construction, information technology, sports and events, government, aid work and aerospace.

  • What each project has in common is a start and a finish

    This simple observation has some profound implications for the way projects are delivered.


For a project to successfully finish, it needs to produce an output.

That output can be a productservice or result.

However, as we will see, production of this tangible output is not necessarily the end of your project, nor even the purpose of the project.

An output might also be called a deliverable

How people use and ultimately benefit from this output is usually far more important than the project itself.

No two projects are perfectly the same.

And because no two projects ever start and finish at exactly the same time, in the same place, with the same people and under the same conditions, every project is fundamentally unique. 

The differences are sometimes small, but often significant.

Even repeating a simple project you have completed before will throw up a different result, (either in terms of process or outcomes), because – if nothing else – presumably you have learnt from experience and are doing something differently.

Business schools have traditionally taught management in the context of continuous operating cycles.

And whereas it is true that many of the lessons of general management do apply to projects; our project-defined start and end date means that the effort we apply to day-to-day operations – or business as usual, as it is sometimes called – is not always a perfect fit for projects.

In fact, some general management knowledge does not transfer well and may actually harm our projects.

So what are some of the other differences between projects and business as usual?

We will look at that in the next topic.

When it comes to projects, no one does them bigger than NASA.

How do they approach the project management challenge?


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