What is a Project?2013-07-02 16-32-32

This may seem a simple question with a simple answer but when we look at the multitude a definitions of what a project is, one might start to wonder if we can ever nail it down. Luckily when we look at some of the definitions there are some common characteristics.
First let's have a look a couple of definitions.
A project can be considered to be any series of activities and tasks that:
  • Have a specific objective to be completed within certain specifications
  • Have defined start and end dates
  • Have funding limits (if applicable)
  • Consume human and nonhuman resources (i.e., money, people, equipment)
  • Are multi-functional (i.e., cut across several functional lines)1
A project is a sequence of unique, complex, and connected activities having one goal or purpose and that must be completed by a specific time, within budget, and according to specification.2
A project is a unique process consisting of a set of co-ordinated and controlled activities with start and finish dates, undertaken to achieve an objective conforming to specific requirements, including constraints of time, cost and resources.3
A project is a temporary organization that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed Business Case.4
A project consists of a unique set of processes consisting of coordinated and controlled activities with start and end dates, performed to achieve project objectives. Achievement of the project objectives requires the provision of deliverables conforming to specific requirements.5
A project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.6
The two elements we see in each definition, albeit slightly different worded are: time bound and result oriented. In other words to create something within a certain time-frame. Other elements refine this by adding a specific focus - the business (case) - or approach - resources and control.
Another way of looking at it is by asking the question, "What is not a project?"
Not a project is running the organization on a daily business (unless you are in the project management business ;-). Changing the way the business is run can be considered a project.
Not a project is repetitive work such a operating a production line. Making (major) changes to the production line can be considered a project.
Not a project is the (dis)embarkation of passengers at the end/start of a cruise vacation. Improving the (dis)embarkation process for each port of call can be considered a project.
Running a charitable organziation on a daily basis is not a project. The annual major fundraising campaign can be considered a project
In other words, steady state, recurring stuff usually is not a project. Unique and/or major (recurring) stuff can be considered a project.
Finally, does it really matter? We can say that if one does all, or most of, the things considered to be within the domain of a project manager one is managing a project. We can also say, if they (whoever that may be, your boss, the management team, the board) call it a project you better do, or be able to do, whatever it is project managers are considered to be doing! In one of the following articles we will address that (whatever a pm is supposed to do/be doing).
See also: 

1. PROJECT MANAGEMENT, A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling. Harold Kerzner, 8th Ed. ISBN 0471225770 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2002
2. Effective Project Management, Third Edition  by Robert K. Wysocki and Rudd McGary  ISBN:0471432210 John Wiley & Sons © 2003
3: ISO 10006:2003. Quality management systems - Guidelines for quality management in projects, 2003
4. Prince2. Managing Successful Project with Prince2, The Stationary Office, 2009
5: ISO 21500:2012. Project Management - Guidance on project management, 2012
6: A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 5th Ed. 2013