6th Edition PMBOK® Guide—Chapter 1 (Introduction): What is a Project?

Today I am starting a project of going through the 6th Edition of the PMBOK® Guide which was released last week by the Project Management Institute and blogging about the contents.    I blogged about the contents of the 4th Edition in order to prepare for the Certified Associated in Project Management (CAPM) certification exam; I blogged about the contents of the 5th Edition in order to lead a study group of PMI members who were studying for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification exam, and now I am blogging about the 6th Edition to take the exam myself when it becomes available in the first quarter of 2018.

The first chapter is a general introduction to the framework in which project management exists, starting with section 1.2 Foundation Elements (section 1.1 describes the purpose of the Guide).    My first question on cracking open the new 6th Edition was “has the definition of a project changed?”   The answer is no; it is as follows

“A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.”

The key words here, I believe, are “temporary” and “unique.”  What you should be doing in thinking of this definition is not just what a project is, but what it is not:   it contrasts with the regular operations of a business or organization which are activities that are “ongoing” and often “repetitive.”   Also important is the fact that the project is done for a specific purpose, although that purpose may be tangible (a product), intangible (a result), or something in between (a service).

Let’s think about an example to clarify one’s understanding of the definition, one that I take from my professional experience.

Scenario A–The Reserve Project

Company A is an insurance company which is required by insurance regulations to calculate the reserves it is holding for its insurance claims.   The reserves represent the amount of money set aside for the insurance company to meet future payments associated with claims incurred but not yet settled.    The reserves have to be calculated by the ending of each fiscal year, and so three months before that date, Company A initiates the “Reserve Project,” which has as its goal the calculation of the reserves to be reported to the insurance regulatory agencies.    To achieve this result, a project manager is chosen to lead the claims adjusters, who act as the project team members carrying out the project.    A budget and a schedule are created, usually copied from the previous year when the same project was done last time.

Question:   Is this a project according to PMI’s definition?

Answer:    Although the company calls it a project, it is really more along the lines of a business operation.    Yes, it may have some surface singularities to a project, in that it is done for a specific purpose, a manager is assigned to manage the activities, there is a schedule and budget, etc., but the key words in the scenario are “the same project was done last time.”   It is not a unique result, but the same result that has to be done in the same way at the same time every year.    It is an operational activity, albeit one that is done not continuously throughout the year, but continually (i.e., done at regular intervals at a specific time of the year).

Scenario B–A Six Sigma Project

Company B creates a unique product, but then discovers that there is a defect in the product.    They decide to do what is called a “Six Sigma project” which will go and correct this defect.

Question:  Is this a project according to PMI’s definition?

Answer:   Although the answer might not be clear in the basic definition, in the explanatory paragraphs below the definition, PMI goes into more detail and says that a “unique product” can be any of the following:

  • a component of another item
  • an enhancement or correction to an item, or
  • a new end item in itself (e.g. the correction of a defect in an end item).

A Six-Sigma project would definitely fall into the last of these definitions, since it is correcting a defect in an end item which had been created in a previous project.

This post covers the portion of the definition which contains the word “unique”; the next post will cover the portion of the definition which contains the word “temporary.”   Additional posts in this series will cover the relationship between project management and change management, the creation of business value, and the factors which cause organizations to initiate projects in the first place.






2 Responses

  1. I really admire your diligence for doing this. I find your posting very easy to understand and useful. Thank you!

    • Thanks–it actually helps my own understanding by having to write about it. I’m glad that in the process that others out there are finding it useful. I especially appreciate your comment that is was very easy to understand–that’s always my goal!

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