6th Edition PMBOK® Guide—Chapter 1 (Introduction): What is a Project? (2)


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.   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).    This section starts with the definition of a project, a good place as any to start:

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

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the key words in this definition are “temporary” and “unique.”   I discussed the “unique” aspect of projects in yesterday’s post; I wanted to focus on the other key word today and that is “temporary.”   In an organization, a project stands in contrast to its regular operations, which if not permanent, are at least continuous (ongoing) or continual (happening repeatedly at regular intervals).

But the PMBOK® Guide, in discussing on page 6 the fact that a project is a temporary endeavor, mentions another important aspect of a project.   When exactly does it end?    Well, since the definition of a project is an endeavor to create a unique product, service, or result, it makes sense that a project ends when its objectives have been achieved.

But a project can also end when the objectives will not or cannot be achieved for the following reasons:

  • funding for the project is exhausted, or the human and/or physical resources are no longer available
  • the business need for the project no longer exists
  • legal cause or regulatory change

All of these reasons are discussed in an upcoming section on why a project is initiated in the first place.   When those reasons go away, so can the project!

Besides being a general point that is important to understand, knowing that a project can be terminated when it can no longer achieve its objective will help you when you study for the Project Management Professional (PMP).

Here are some examples of questions that illustrate the point described above.

Question:   You are the project manager on a project and your sponsor gives you the news that upper management is terminating your project because it can no longer serve the business need for which it was started in the first place.    What process are you now in?

Answer:   Close Project or Phase (process 4.7).

When the project is terminated by the sponsor, all work on the project itself will cease, but you as a project manager will still have to complete the final process, which is Close Project or Phase.    Although the product, service or result of the project will not be realized, that doesn’t mean that the project was a total “waste of time.”   However, it will be unless you do this process.   The people working on your project team will be released to pursue new projects, but before they go, it is important for you and your team to document the knowledge gained by you and your team while you were doing the project by creating a final register of the lessons learned so that other projects may benefit from your efforts.   That knowledge will help other project managers in getting their projects to the finish line!

Here’s a more technical question involving earned value measurement, but related to the same topic.

Question:    during the Close Project or Phase process, what will the SPI be?

A) greater than one

B) equal to one

C) less than one

D) all of the above are possible

Answer:  the correct answer is d).   In order to understand this, let’s review what the SPI is.   It stands for the Schedule Performance Index, and is taken to be the cumulative Earned Value or EV (the value of the actual work done on the project) divided by the Planned Value or PV (the value of the work that was planned to be done on the project).

If your project has achieved the objectives, then the actual work done (EV) should equal what was planned to be done (PV), and therefore EV/PV = 1.0.   However, if your project was terminated because the project was not able to achieve the project objectives, then the actual work done (EV) will be LESS than what was planned to be done (PV), in which case EV/PV < 1.

Can the SPI be greater than one at the end of a project?    If SPI is greater than one at the end of a project, then that implies that the actual work done (EV) is GREATER than what was planned to be done, which means that in order to achieve the objectives, you had to do more work than you had planned on doing.   So it is possible, although obviously not an ideal situation.

As a side note, you can end up having more project scope than you planned for, as in this scenario when you had to do more work than you planned to get to the finish line, but about the product scope?   Can you have more product scope than you planned for, i.e., more features and requirements in your final product than were called for in your original requirement?   The answer to this according to PMI is a resounding “NO!”, because this would be doing something called “gold plating,” which is giving the customer something that he or she did NOT ask for, and may not be something that the customer even wants.

So in conclusion, a project is a temporary endeavor, which means it will end, but it can end either because it does or does not meet its objectives.   The next post introduces a very important concept about projects, which is that they drive change.   So any project manager therefore is automatically a change agent!






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