In this section, we will explore some basic definitions relating to projects and project management; we will also investigate the environment surrounding a project, such as the organization the project is being performed in as well as the various stakeholders’ roles in a project.

Basic Definitions

It’s appropriate at the very beginning of our course to start with some common definitions of Project Management terms.

Project Management Definition

It is very important for the Project Organization, the Project Manager and Team, as well as Customers to come to a mutual agreement on the definition of a project. According to PMI, a project can be defined as having the following characteristics:

  1. Temporary in nature – it has a beginning and an end
  2. Resulting in a unique Product, Service or Result
  3. Coordinated undertaking of interrelated activities

Advice for the Exam: In the Exam, you will be tested on the definition of a Project. Questions will typically provide you with a scenario and challenge you on whether this scenario is a project. For example:

Qn: You work in a manufacturing environment and you produce widgets. You have just received an order to produce 10,000 widgets for a customer in such a manner as not to exceed a cost of $5000 by the following Friday, while conforming to your company’s standard widget process. Is this a project?

Ans: No. Even though there is a due date, deliverables, but it is not unique, it is a standard process.

PMI defines Project Management as the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements. PMI has identified the various project management activities that should occur during the course of a typical project. These activities are defined in the PMBOK Guide as 42 project management activities or processes that have been logically grouped into 5 process groups as listed below:

  1. Initiating
  2. Planning
  3. Controlling
  4. Executing
  5. Closing

Progressive Elaboration

Progressive elaboration is an important concept that helps to describe the continuous nature of improving and refining the project plan and its components. A great example of Progressive Elaboration is in how we address assumptions in a project. In the early stages of a project, there may be uncertainties or unknowns in the project and in order to progress, we have to make assumptions. Due to the constraints of a project, we may not have the available time or resources to validate all of our assumptions. According to the concept of progressive elaboration, we document all of our assumptions in these early stages of the project and as we progress through the project, we repeatedly go back to our assumptions and validate them. In fact, Progressive Elaboration is a concept that aligns well with a management philosophy known as Continuous Improvement or Kaizen, which we will be covering in a later chapter on Quality Management.

Program Management Definition

A Program can be defined as a collection of individual projects that in their totality achieve an overall objective, sometimes referred to as a Program or Mission Statement. For example, an annual maintenance program for a public school district which has a mission statement of “to provide a clean and safe environment for students to learn in.’ Over the course of a year, there will be a variety of projects undertaken to support this mission statement. For example there may be projects to upgrade and refurbish existing schools, projects to build new schools and even projects for demolishing old schools that are no longer in use. All of these projects contribute in some way to the program achieving its goals. Furthermore, a Program is ongoing and may not have an end date, unlike a project.

Discussion Points: Other examples of programs include the Nuclear weapon systems programs as part of the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union as well as NASA’s space exploration program. Discuss how these two examples can be defined as programs.

Relationship between Project, Program and Portfolio Management

The three categorizations of projects can be looked at from a hierarchical manner, where a Project Portfolio supports the Strategic Goals of a business and the Portfolio is composed of several programs, which can be further subdivided into constituent projects. For many Organizations, the movement from Project Management to Program Management and eventually Project Portfolio Management can be seen as a gradual maturation of the Organization’s project management processes, where project management processes are gradually standardized and optimized and the company eventually sees projects as collections of programs. The latter stage involves coordinating different programs which could belong to the various functional departments within an Organization, into a portfolio of projects, which support the strategic goals of the Organization.

Project and Operations Work

You should be able to use the basic definitions of a project to distinguish for a given amount of effort, whether it is a project or not. There are many activities which support an organization that are not project based. The table below lists several common aspects of Projects and Operational related activities.

Projects                                     Operations

– Temporary                                – Continuous (Repeatable)

– Unique End Result                      – Similar or Identical End Result

– Coordinated undertaking            – Efficient and Controlled

The production line in a factory is a great example of operational activity, where there’s a repeatable process that allows the business to manufacture or assemble a product. The company’s goal is to make its production line as stable, efficient and repeatable as possible, so that it is as cost effective as possible to make the product.

That does not mean that a project has no place on the factory floor.  On the contrary, projects are extremely important in most operational environments. Over time, the operations processes must evolve and adapt to meet the changing demands of the factory. Well-managed projects enable an organization to introduce changes to their operational processes in a controlled manner. For example, equipment might need to be upgraded to support newer products. Projects allow the organization to manage the potential risks associated with performing the upgrades.

Enterprise Environmental Factors

PMI wants all project managers to be aware that a project lives within an Organization. Firstly, there are the people who contribute to the project, as well as the equipment and materials that are consumed to create the deliverables. Next, there is the supporting infrastructure within the organization, such as Finance and HR to accommodate the payroll and purchasing needs as well as the benefits and personnel development of the people involved in the project. Project personnel frequently have other roles in the organization and may report to other managers or departments.  Finally, the project is subject to the laws and regulations of the country and prevailing industry that the project’s deliverables apply to.

As project managers, we need to be sensitive to the needs, requirements and constraints of the project; the organization it exists within and finally the environment that the project operates in.

The Project Life Cycle

In an earlier section, you learnt that a Project is temporary in nature, meaning that it can be defined as having a specific beginning and an end. The Project Life Cycle encompasses all of the activities that occur from the beginning of the project to its end. Project Life Cycles can vary in duration and complexity based on factors such as the side of the project and nature of the deliverables as well as the culture and structure of the organization. PMI would like you to be aware of several trends that occur throughout a Project Lifecycle as listed in figures 1 and 2 below (taken from the PMBOK):


Fig. 1 Cost and Staffing Levels Across the Project Life Cycle

As the project progresses from beginning to end (left to right in the diagram), activities are focused around four major objectives, namely:

–        Starting the Project

–        Organizing and Preparing

–        Carrying out the work

–        Closing the Project

Trend 1: Resource Utilization throughout the Project LifecycleNotice that the utilization of resources (cost and staffing of project personnel) gradually increases to a plateau as the project transitions through its initial startup, organizing and planning and execution of work and reduces dramatically as project deliverables get completed and the project eventually draws to a close.

In addition to Figure 1 above, the PMBOK refers to another diagram to illustrate another important trend that occurs throughout a generic project lifecycle as listed below:


Fig. 2 Impact of Stakeholder influence, risk and uncertainty

As in figure 1 above, the figure illustrates two trends that occur as the project progresses from beginning to end (left to right in the diagram).

Trend 2: Cost of Changes throughout the Project Lifecycle

As the project progresses through its lifecycle, changes become more costly to the project. This is because earlier in the project, the likelihood of a change impacting other project activities is much smaller. Later in the project, there may be multiple project activities running in parallel and any changes to the project may result in re-work, or modifications to project constraints (scope and time) all of which may potentially consume resources and contribute to increased costs.

Trend 3: Level of Risk throughout the Project Lifecycle

In the early stages of a project, there is a lot of uncertainty. Project roles and assumptions may not be defined in addition to key project tasks such as creating well-defined project objectives and defining how to these objectives can be achieved. All of these factors contribute to the initially high level of risk inherent to the project. Similarly, Project Stakeholders have a lot of influence over the project and may even be able to alter the final deliverables of the project in these early stages.

Similarly, Project Stakeholders have a lot of influence over the project and may even be able to alter the final deliverables of the project in these early stages. As the project progresses, more activities are completed and assumptions and uncertainties can be validated. This has a tendency to decrease Project risk and uncertainty. Stakeholders are also less able to influence the project as it is better defined.

These trends ultimately contribute to an understanding that as a project progresses, the impact and costs of any changes increases. This helps us to understand PMI’s rationale for focusing a lot of effort on planning activities early into the project, in order to reduce the impact of changes later on in the project.

Project Phases

As a project increases in duration, complexity or scope, it is a common practice to divide the activities in a project into distinct groupings, known as Phases. There is no set standard on the number of phases that should occur through a project, however some industries and organizations have been known to standardize on an approach towards the number and scope surrounding the phases of a project.

Phases are typically structured sequentially, meaning to say that a project would progress through Phases 1, 2 and 3, and so on. However some phases may run concurrently or have overlapping activities. (As one phase of a project is being closed out, initial planning activities for another phase are being performed.) Phases can be distinguished from one another by a set of unique deliverables or objectives. It is common for the deliverables for one phase be dependent on some or all of the deliverables from previous phases.

Phase Exits, Milestones or Kill Points

For phases that occur in a sequential manner, the close of a phase typically coincides with some sort of evaluation or signoff of the deliverables or milestones for that particular phase. This is an appropriate time for the project team to evaluate the project progress thus far and identify if the project is performing according to set expectations. In the event that the project is to be terminated, this boundary between phases is referred to as a Kill Point.

Project Phases and Process Groups

You need to understand the relationship between the 5 Process Groups (Initiating, Planning, Executing, Controlling and Closing) and project Phases.  In some cases, the entire project is structured around a single phase, which iterates through all of the process groups until the closing processes coincide with the phase and project closeout. For other projects, a single phase in the project might be extensive enough to be addressed through the 5 Process Groups.

The Key here is to understand that the Process Groups are repetitive and can in fact cycle through multiple iterations of a project as you progress through the various phases. You can think of a project and its phases as a series of waves crashing on the shore. As each wave (phase) starts to roll onto the shore, you will encounter a complete iteration of the 5 process groups.

Types of Organizations

You will need to be familiar with the various types of organizational structures in which a project can exist. The important concept to understand for the examination is that you have to understand the degree of influence or authority that a Project Manager possesses in these various types of organizations and how he or she can adjust his approach to suit the various organizations.

Functional Organization

This is also known as the classic stovepipe kind of Organization. Managers and territories as well as people with defined areas of responsibility characterize a Functional Organization.

The authority of the Project Manager in this type of Organization is extremely limited. From the project manager’s point of view, it is very difficult to get people thinking about the project itself.

Rather people thinking about their own tasks and functions so there is a positive side of being in a Functional Organization. You have clear chains of communication. Everybody knows who to talk to, you know whom you’re held accountable to, you know whom your boss is and this is very easy to understand in a functional Organization.

The act of violating the chain of command, for instance cutting over your boss’s head to go talk to someone above him is severely frowned upon. Individuals have to work through the process and the chain of command in the functional Organization. If you are working in one function, then you should not be bothering with people in the other functions. The sales people don’t talk to the engineering people and the engineering people don’t talk to the sales people.

Project Expediter Organization

We still have a Functional Organization but we recognize that we have a project and we need someone to monitor and track our progress on the project. We use the role of the Project Expeditor for this process. This term Expeditor tells us a lot about the authority of the individual performing this task.  The project expeditor is not a manager of the project and is trying to move it along through the individual stovepipes of our functional Organization. The Project Expeditor is really only tracking the project for management.

A little bit better than the Functional but nevertheless, we are still in a functional Organization but we are trying to do a project. We are trying to get people in our functional Organization to recognize that this project exists.

Project Coordinator Organization

The difference between a Project Coordinator and the Project Expeditor Organization types has to do primarily with whom the Project Manager reports to.

The Project Expeditor would report to somebody within the Functional Organization and has functional responsibilities.

A Project Coordinator is reporting to someone further up the food chain. This is a Senior-level of management. You are still trying to keep things on track, trying to keep things organized but using a higher level of referent authority.

When we look at where project managers report in the Organization, this is going to convey a clear message to the Organization on how much authority the project manager actually has.

* The coordinator is going to report to someone higher up in the Organization and because they are reporting to someone higher in the Organization, this gives them more power than if they were a project expeditor.

Weak Matrix

The term ‘weak’ refers to the power that the project manager has over the functional managers. The key decision-making, the budgeting, the promotions and rewards are all the responsibility and authority lie with the functional managers.

We have functional managers and project managers in a weak matrix. In a weak matrix environment, all money, all profit and loss, all evaluations are still performed by the functions within the Organization.

Project managers still have ad-hoc responsibilities, but they derive their authority from the functions and all profit and loss is still reported against the functional components of the Organization.

The project manager does not have the authority when it comes to making decisions and coordinating expenditure.

* Sometimes, where you are sitting in the office can give you a clue to whom you are reporting to more. For example, if you are sitting closer to the Project Manager or the Functional Manager, then you are most likely reporting more to that respective manager.

Strong Matrix

The project manager in this case has budget authority, the ability to make decisions about rewards even regarding hiring and firing personnel and all of the important management actions that a manager would have to make when it comes to managing all aspects of the project.

The Organization is really managing itself on a project-based level. The functional managers still have a level of control.

* The key concept when it comes to looking at matrix Organizations is that the team members have to report to more than one person. There are disadvantages to this in terms of the communications challenges felt by the team.

A simple example of this is that the team members are often drawn between attending the functional manager’s meeting and attending the project manager’s meeting should they occur at the same time.  Both managers want the team member to attend their meeting.

The deciding factor in this case would depend on whether we are looking at a strong or weak matrix environment. In a weak matrix, the team member would often go to the functional manager’s meeting and in a strong matrix Organization; the team member would often go to the project manager’s meeting.

Projectized Organization

This is an Organization where the Project Manager is actually the supervisor of the people who work in the project. The project manager is in control of all of the activities of the project. This can be looked at as the project form of a functional Organization.

The Projectized Organization tends to take on some of the negative characteristics of the functional Organization because some of the project managers tend to become territorial and will try to prevent team members from talking to other parts of the Organization and will try to make them stay within the scope of their project.

*When you see questions in the exam referring to the type of Organization, we generally see the questions relating to the amount of authority that a project manager has in that type of Organization.


So that’s it for some of the basic definitions that you will see around Projects. After reading this article, you should be able to distinguish between a Project and a Program; and also be able to differentiate between the different types of Organizational structures, from Functional to Projectized.

In the next section, we will go over a fundamental concept that is used throughout the PMBOK, the Project Management Processes.

Ook, Road Chimp out!