How Projects Differ From “Normal” Work

A project is something that is distinct from the normal circumstances of everyday work. A project has the following characteristics:

1. A project is goal oriented.

  • A project has a beginning, a middle and most of all an end. The goal behind any project is to achieve some defined result.
  • A project is never simply an end in itself; rather is is a means to an end.
  • Project–Build a warehouse
  • Not a Project–Get the accounting reports done each month
  • Project–Publish the July issue of the company news letter
  • Not a Project–Decide which work assignments have priority

2. A project consists of tasks that can be put into a connected and interrelated sequence.


3. A project has a limited duration

  • It wasn’t really a project in the first place, but rather a program.
  • It’s a project, but one that is in serious trouble. The goal of project management is ultimately to end the project, preferably successfully.


4. A project is unique and non routine

  • With a project, you are trying to achieve a specific goal. Once the project is complete, you shouldn’t have to do that specific project again.
  • A key element of projects is that they can be broken down into tasks, which are the specific work packages that have to be accomplished in order to achieve the goal. In an important sense, there is really no such thing as project management; rather, there is task management. From a technical perspective, when you manage a project, you break the project down into tasks, organize the tasks into a logical order and manage the performance of the tasks, one by one. If you have broken down the tasks properly and you manage each one successfully, your project’s outcome should be fairly certain.
  • Because projects have specific goals and a plan for achieving them, projects are always and necessarily time-limited. If the project seems never to approach an actual conclusion, one of two things is true:
  • If you do it all the time, and it is the primary activity or at least one of the primary activities of your job, it’s not really a project.

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