What Is a Project? Definition, Key Characteristics Lifecycle (2023)

If you’re a project manager, developer, or anyone else who works on completing goals, then you’re familiar with the definition and essential characteristics of the project. However, project definition is often used in different contexts and can mean something different to each project management professional.

But one thing that everyone agrees on when it comes to the meaning of “project” is that every project initiative defines a final deliverable to be produced in a finite period and budget, unlike a continuous process.

An individual or organization involved in projects needs to understand how to solve the complexity of problems through a systematic management approach. In this article, we’ll define the terms “project” and “lifecycle,” describe the critical characteristics of a project, and explain how to distinguish a project from an activity.

What Is a Project? Definition, Key Characteristics Lifecycle (1)

What is a Project? – The Definition

Projectis an excellent opportunity for organizations and individuals to achieve their business and non-business objectives more efficiently through implementing change. Projects help us make desired changes in an organized manner and reduce the probability of failure.

Projects differ from other types of work (e.g., process, task, procedure). Meanwhile, in the broadest sense,a project is defined as a specific, finite activity that produces a visible and measurable result under specific preset requirements.

It attempts to implement desired change in an environment in a controlled way. By using projects, we can plan and do our activities, for example:

  • Build a garage.
  • Run a marketing campaign.
  • Develop a website.
  • Organize a party.
  • Go on vacation.
  • Graduate a university with honors or whatever else we may wish to do.

Aproject is a temporary, unique, and progressive attempt to produce a tangible or intangible result (a unique product, service, benefit, competitive advantage, etc.). It usually includes a series of interrelated tasks planned for execution over a fixed period and within specific requirements and limitations such as cost, quality, performance, etc.

The Key Characteristics of a Project

As follows from the given definition, any project features these characteristics:

  • Temporary. This fundamental characteristic means every project has a finite start and end. The start is when the project is initiated and its concept is developed. The end is reached when all project objectives have been met (or unmet if it’s evident that the project cannot be completed – then it’s terminated).
  • Unique Deliverable(s). Any project aims to produce some deliverable(s) which can be a product, service, or another result. Deliverables should address a problem or need to be analyzed before the project start.
  • Progressive Elaboration. With the progress of a project, continuous investigation and improvement become available, allowing more accurate and comprehensive plans. This fundamental characteristic means that successive iterations of planning processes develop more effective solutions to progress and develop long-term projects.

In addition to the listed characteristics, aconventional projectis:

  • Purposeful as it has a rational and measurable purchase
  • Logical as it has a particular lifecycle.
  • Structured as it has inter-dependencies between its tasks and activities.
  • Conflict as it tries to solve a problem that creates some friction.
  • Limited by available project resources.
  • Risk as it involves an element of change with a negative impact.

Below are some examples of projects:

  • Digging a well for the extraction of a natural resource in Nebraska
  • Building a wooden house somewhere in Spain
  • Developing a cloud-based marketing platform for startups
  • Establishing a non-profit organization for COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts
  • Renovating the kitchen
  • Organizing a project meetingwith critical stakeholders
  • Running a marathon … (anything you don’t repeat often).

No matter how big or small your project is, you can benefit from using editable project templates ― pre-formatted, reusable outlines that are a starting point for planning new work.Templatesenable you to set up to-do’s, budgets, project schedules, reports, and other formal documents without starting from scratch.

Project vs. Activity

If you need clarification on “project versus activity,” let us explain the differences in the following list.

  • Project is an all-encompassing term that helps you organize multifaceted tasks and manage multiple resources.
  • Activities are particular types of tasks categorized based on the kind of work involved, the purpose, and constraints.
  • A project is a lifecycle event, while an activity is a discrete unit of time or task that complements the scope of project planning.
  • Projects have tangible deliverables or products and measurable outcomes, unlike activities and routine operations that don’t.
  • Projects are temporary, but activities are ongoing and continuous.
  • Projects usually have a number of activities, while single tasks in an activity or multiple tasks within an activity do not represent a project.
  • Activities are sequential and sequential activities can be part of a sub-project.

Project Work Breakdown Structure

In project management, the work breakdown structure (WBS) defines a deliverable-oriented hierarchical decomposition of all the essential work to be executed by the project team to accomplish the desired objectives and create the required deliverables. It’s made up of separate activities organized as packages or phases.

It’s an organized and systematic way of illustrating a project to increase clarity. The primary purpose of the WBS is to describe what work needs to be done and how it fits within the project context. Identifying the tasks for successful project completion is essential, so you can clearly understand what activities should be accomplished by specific dates.

A WBS serves as a basis for finding the critical path and developing a network diagram that captures the flow of work needed to accomplish the project objectives.

What Is a Project? Definition, Key Characteristics Lifecycle (2)

In organizations, a project defines a work planned for implementation within the current business environment. This definition lets us make a distinction between other pieces of work, such as:

  • Program– a broad, long-term objective that is often decomposed into a series of projects and sub-projects
  • Task– an identifiable and measurable activity that creates a small unit of work for a related project
  • Work package– a division of a project task
  • Work unit– a division of work packages

Projects, programs, tasks, work packages, and units are the elements of thework breakdown structureor WBS. Often WBS is used to determine an activity-based hierarchy of projects regarding their deliverables and objectives.

A program includes several or larger projects. A larger project can be broken down into smaller interrelated sub-projects. Each can be divided into tasks that are decomposed into complementary activities or sub-tasks. A task includes a series of smaller goals that are monitored against milestones.

Project Lifecycle: Common Phases

The concept of the lifecycle is fundamental in project management. It describes a project’s phases over time, from initial launch to completion and termination.

The project lifecycle includes an organization’s activities to produce the final product. Therefore, these activities should be considered equally important and referred to as “steps” or “phases.”

The value of project lifecycle management is that it defines what key stakeholders should be focusing on:

  1. In each phase, progress the project to its subsequent development step.
  2. Associated risks and challenges.
  3. Effective leadership styles, team dynamics, and strategies support project success.

Depending on the company and thechosen method of project management, the project lifecycle can include these typical phases:

  1. Conducting a feasibility studyis a phase meant to determine the viability of a project. The primary purpose of this phase is to identify the proposed project’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities.
  2. Establishing the project requirements— identifies functional and technical requirements for producing a desired outcome or benefit. Defining project acceptance criteria usually include in this step.
  3. Developing the project scopedefines what has to be done for the product, who will do it, and how it will be done. This stage is also where the high-level project objectives should be defined.
  4. Creating the scheduleand the budget— also called “project baseline” refers to the detail of the project timeline and the estimated budget, including dates and periods of each activity and the costs to be covered. It also includes time buffers for contingencies to avoid delays in the start or delivery of the product.
  5. Creating the project plan— planning, organizing, and scheduling the work assigned to a project is known as project planning. Its main aim is to ensure that the activities required to create and deliver a product are put in place following the allocated budget and deadline.
  6. Executing project work— it is also known as project implementation. The primary purpose of this phase is to ensure the completion of all activities and tasks following the project plan.
  7. Controlling and reporting— this phase consists of tracking progress, changing circumstances and risks, identifying issues, plus monitoring the work performed during project execution. It can notify managers in the case of any deviation from the plan.

Predictive and Iterative Project Lifecycles

Most project management lifecycles can be of two types: predictive and iterative.

Thepredictive lifecycleis suitable for projects where the deliverables should be completed within a predefined time frame and budget. For instance, here are the five phases of the predictive lifecycle (the waterfall methodology) according to The PMBOK Guide by the Project Management Institute (PMI):

  1. Initiation
  2. Planning
  3. Execution
  4. Monitoring and Control
  5. Closing

The predictive lifecycle is used in situations when you can estimate the average time required to complete every phase in your project. This makes it easy for managers to estimate the total time and cost that will be involved in completing the project successfully. However, this approach does not allow for identifying factors that might prevent you from achieving your goals on time and within budget.

Theiterative lifecycle, sometimes called the spiral lifecycle, is suitable for situations when you cannot accurately estimate the time and cost to complete every phase or activity.

The iterative methodology is suitable for those types of agile projects that have to deal with uncertainties, frequent changes in requirements, and other unforeseeable problem-solving activities.

Below are the six standard stages of the iterative lifecycle (Scrum, Extreme Programming, Agile approach):

  1. Concept
  2. Inception
  3. Iteration
  4. Release
  5. Maintenance
  6. Retirement

Project Management in Business

Startups and mature companies widely use project management to complete complex tasks and business objectives. It is used for planning, organizing, and controlling business projects that guide an organization’s growth.

Business project management is a systematic approach to planning, organizing, and controlling the work of one or more people and divisions within an organization to achieve a specific business aim. It is usually carried out using project management tools and techniques to achieve a particular business goal.

A business project can be aimed at developing a new product or service that will either fill a gap in the market or create a unique niche for your company.

Say you want to develop a new generation of mobile phones, then it is an R&D project management task within your business operations.

Or, you want to build a computer program to speed up the process of resolving life-chat queries in your customer support department. Then you have to plan and organize its development as a software project.


What Is a Project? Definition, Key Characteristics Lifecycle? ›

The project lifecycle refers to the five phases all projects must progress through, from start to finish. The five phases of a project lifecycle serve as the most basic outline that gives a project definition. These five phases are initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and closure.

What is project definition and characteristics? ›

A project is a set of interdependent tasks that have a common goal. Projects have the following characteristics: A clear start and end date – There are projects that last several years but a project cannot go on forever. It needs to have a clear beginning, a definite end, and an overview of what happens in between.

What are the characteristics of the project lifecycle? ›

The project management life cycle is usually broken down into four phases: initiation, planning, execution, and closure. These phases make up the path that takes your project from the beginning to the end.

What is the key definition of a project? ›

Simply put, a project is a series of tasks that need to be completed to reach a specific outcome. A project can also be defined as a set of inputs and outputs required to achieve a particular goal.

What defines the definition phase of a project life cycle? ›

A standard project typically has the following four major phases (each with its own agenda of tasks and issues): initiation, planning, implementation, and closure. Taken together, these phases represent the path a project takes from the beginning to its end and are generally referred to as the project “life cycle.”

What is an example of a project definition? ›

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), it's a temporary endeavour completed to create a unique product, service or result. For example, building a house is a project because it's a temporary collection of construction activities to create a unique home.

What are the 4 defining characteristics of a project '? ›

time, budget, quality, and quantity, when objectives are fulfilled project cause existing. You can initially define the objectives of the project what actually need to achieve.

What are the 5 phases of the project life cycle? ›

According to the PMBOK Guide (Project Management Body of Knowledge) by the Project Management Institute (PMI), a project management life cycle consists of 5 distinct phases including initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closure that combine to turn a project idea into a working product.

What are the five major characteristics of a project? ›

  • i. Specific.
  • ii. Measurable.
  • iii. Achievable.
  • iv. Relevant.
  • v. Time bound.

What are the three main characteristics a project is defined by? ›

The 3 things that make a solid project definition

Goal. Objectives. Scope.

What is a good project definition? ›

Factors that are crucial to the success of any project include: • Clear and clearly articulated goals. • Comprehensive, long-term, and detailed planning. • Early definition of deliverable quality criteria. • Active executive support with a shared vision throughout the project's life.

What are the key characteristics of a project? ›

It typically has a defined start and a defined end-point. The project will have a unique set of requirements that need to be delivered within the boundaries of this project. A project can typically be more of a once-off endeavor, rather than something that's happening all the time in a repeated fashion.

What is project definition and project initiation? ›

What is project initiation? Project initiation is the first step in starting a new project. During the project initiation phase, you establish why you're doing the project and what business value it will deliver—then use that information to secure buy-in from key stakeholders. Create a project initiation template.

What are the 7 phases of a project life cycle? ›

The Project Lifecycle consists of seven phases intake, initiation, planning, product selection, execution, monitoring & control, and closure. These phases make up the path that takes your project from start to finish.

What are the 3 main stages of a project life cycle? ›

The project life cycle is divided into four project life cycle phases – initiation, planning, execution, and closure.

What is not project definition? ›

Non-project means donation of money, objects, goods and experts (including volunteer experts), at one time or on separate occasions, and provision of inputs for organizing conferences and associations, seminars, research, surveys, and training.

What is project type definitions? ›

The Project Type indicates the intended use of the funds and is used for a variety of purposes when reporting. The main classification of projects that are routed through ORSP include basic research, applied research, instruction, scholarship / fellowship, and service.

What are the 7 characteristics of a good project? ›

The seven characteristics of successful projects are clear objectives, effective planning, reliable resources, proper control, communication, collaboration, and flexibility. Clear objectives are the main goal of the project that must be well-defined and understood by all stakeholders.

What are the 4 dimensions on which a project is defined? ›

The Key Project Dimensions: Time, Scope, Budget, and Team Efficiency.

What are the six significant characteristics of a project? ›

6 Characteristics of a Project
Mar 29, 2016

What are the 4 stages of project life cycle? ›

This project management process generally includes four phases: initiating, planning, executing, and closing. Some may also include a fifth “monitoring and controlling” phase between the executing and closing stages. By following each step, a project team increases the chance of achieving its goals.

What are the six project life cycle? ›

The phases of project management consist of six distinct project phases. These phases are project initiation and strategy development, project design and planning, execution and testing, project launch and training, support launching and project closing.

What are the 4 main stages of the project management cycle? ›

Whether you're in charge of developing a website, designing a car, moving a department to a new facility, updating an information system, or just about any other project (large or small), you'll go through the same four phases of project management: planning, build-up, implementation, and closeout.

What are the 3 characteristics of project management? ›

3 Key Characteristics of Project Management Processes
  • Consistency. One of the most important characteristics that the project management process can have is consistency. ...
  • Flexibility. As mentioned in our eBook, there are many factors that must work cohesively to achieve successful results. ...
  • Transparency.

What are the 3 main components of a project? ›

The project management triangle is made up of three variables that determine the quality of the project: scope, cost, and time.

What are the three C's of a project? ›

The 3 C's of Project Management: Clarity, Culture, Course Correction.

What are the three core components of a project? ›

There are three main interdependent constraints for every project; time, cost and scope. This is also known as Project Management Triangle.

What are the 5 definitions of a project? ›

The five phases of a project lifecycle serve as the most basic outline that gives a project definition. These five phases are initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and closure.

What is project definition checklist? ›

A project checklist is a list of the steps required to successfully complete a project. These steps focus on the planning and setup phases. Using a checklist helps teams prepare sufficiently for future project work.

What is project definition PDF? ›

Answer: Project: A project is an effort that involves a series of activities and resources, aimed to achieve a certain. output, considering constraints like time, quality and cost and which often introduces a change.

What is project management defining characteristics? ›

Definition. Project management is the application of processes, methods, skills, knowledge and experience to achieve specific project objectives according to the project acceptance criteria within agreed parameters. Project management has final deliverables that are constrained to a finite timescale and budget.

What are the six steps of project initiation? ›

These six steps can help you begin effective project work:
  • Create a business case. The first step of project initiation is to create a business case . ...
  • Conduct a feasibility study. ...
  • Make a project charter. ...
  • Identify stakeholders. ...
  • Assemble the project team. ...
  • Review all initiation work.
Feb 3, 2023

Is project initiation a five step process? ›

Here are the five steps to kick off your project management initiation phase:
  • Define your business case.
  • Draft a project charter.
  • Run a feasibility study.
  • Pick your team.
  • Choose the workplace and the tools.
Aug 11, 2022

What is an example of the project life cycle initiation phase? ›

Examples of this type of project proposal include business plans and grant applications. The prospective sponsors of the project evaluate the proposal and, upon approval, provide the necessary financing. The project officially begins at the time of approval.

What is the process life cycle? ›

The stages that a physical process or a management system goes through as it proceeds from birth to death. These stages include conception, design, deployment, acquisition, operation, maintenance, decommissioning, and disposal.

Why is project life cycle important? ›

The project life cycle is vital because it provides a structured framework for managing a project from beginning to end. It defines the phases a project goes through, from initiation to closure, and helps ensure that all necessary steps are taken to complete the project successfully.

What are 5 characteristics of a project? ›

  • i. Specific.
  • ii. Measurable.
  • iii. Achievable.
  • iv. Relevant.
  • v. Time bound.

What are the five 5 classifications of project? ›

By type (new, maintenance, upgrade, strategic, tactical, operational)

What are the 4 characteristics of project success? ›

Successful projects are those that 1) meet business requirements, 2) are delivered and maintained on schedule, 3) are delivered and maintained within budget, and 4) deliver the expected business value and return on investment.

What are the three keys to a project? ›

3 keys to project success: time, communication - risk management.

What are the five key steps of project definition? ›

The 5 basic phases in the project management process are:

Project Initiation. Project Planning. Project Execution. Project Monitoring and Controlling. Project Closing.

What are the four 4 parts of a project description? ›

Project descriptions provide the following details to the applicants: the problem the project will address, a set of goals for the project, the overall objectives for the project, as well as a project plan that describes the activities the members will undertake.

What are the 4 parts of a project life cycle? ›

This project management process generally includes four phases: initiating, planning, executing, and closing. Some may also include a fifth “monitoring and controlling” phase between the executing and closing stages. By following each step, a project team increases the chance of achieving its goals.

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