What is a Project? The 6 key attributes

project management essentials

What is a Project? This may seem like a straightforward question, but the answer forms the foundation of one of the most dynamic and essential disciplines in the business and organisational landscape.

Here, we’re going to discuss about:

  1. Definition of a Project
  2. Types of Projects
  3. The Lifecycle of a Project
  4. Competing Project Constraints


The perspectives through various types of projects across different industries, from the towering skyscrapers that redefine city skylines to the intricate software systems that power our digital world.

Moreover, we’ll discuss why understanding the nature of projects is crucial. In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing environment, the ability to manage projects effectively is not just a skill but a necessity. It enables organizations to turn visions into realities, ideas into products, and challenges into opportunities.

Let’s begin our exploration of the project concept and project management essentials in driving change and sparking innovation in our ever-evolving world.


What is a Project?

Understanding what constitutes a project is fundamental in the field of project management. A project is not just a task or a set of activities; it’s a complex endeavour with specific attributes that define its nature and scope.


Here are 6 key attributes that characterise a project

1.Unique Purpose

Every project is initiated with a distinct goal or purpose in mind. This unique objective sets the project apart from routine business operations and other projects. Whether it’s constructing a new office building, developing a software program, or organizing a large event, each project is defined by its own unique set of outcomes and objectives.



A project has a definitive start and end date. This temporary nature distinguishes it from ongoing operations. The end is achieved when the project’s goals are accomplished, or it’s determined that these goals can no longer be met. This finite time frame requires careful planning and management to ensure timely completion.


3.Progressive Elaboration

Projects often start with a broad vision or idea and become more detailed over time. This process, known as progressive elaboration, involves continuously improving and detailing a project plan as more information becomes available. It allows for a project to develop organically, adapting to new insights and changing circumstances.


4.Resource Requirement

Resources such as time, money, people, and materials are essential for the completion of a project. Managing these resources efficiently is crucial, as they are often limited and need to be allocated judiciously to achieve the project goals within the set constraints.


6.Customer Initiation

Projects are typically initiated by a customer or client who identifies a need or a problem that the project is expected to address. The customer’s requirements and expectations shape the project’s objectives and deliverables, making customer involvement and satisfaction a key focus in project management.


6.Inherent Uncertainty

Uncertainty is a hallmark of projects. Given their unique and temporary nature, projects often involve risks and unknowns related to scope, resources, timelines, and outcomes. Effective project management therefore entails identifying, analyzing, and managing these uncertainties to minimize potential negative impacts on the project.

In essence, a project is a unique, temporary endeavor, undertaken to achieve a particular aim, with its evolution marked by progressive elaboration. It requires a careful allocation of resources, is initiated in response to a customer’s needs, and is inherently uncertain.

Recognizing and understanding these attributes is vital for anyone involved in the management of projects, as they form the basis of effective project planning, execution, and closure.


Types of Projects

In the realm of project management, projects come in a myriad of forms, each with its distinct features and challenges. Understanding the different types of projects is crucial for project managers, as it aids in applying the appropriate methodologies and strategies.


6 common types of projects

1.Construction Projects

Characteristics: Involves the creation of physical structures like buildings, bridges, or roads.

Challenges: Weather conditions, material availability, safety concerns, and regulatory compliance.

Management Focus: Extensive planning, resource allocation, safety protocols, and adherence to building codes and regulations.


2.Information Technology (IT) Projects

Characteristics: Centers around the development, implementation, or upgrade of technology systems and software.

Challenges: Rapid technology changes, scope creep, technical complexities, and ensuring user compatibility.

Management Focus: Agile methodologies, stakeholder involvement, continuous testing, and adaptability to changing technology.


3.Research and Development (R&D) Projects

Characteristics: Aimed at developing new products or services, or improving existing ones.

Challenges: High levels of uncertainty, long timeframes, significant financial investments.

Management Focus: Flexibility, innovation, ongoing evaluation, and risk management.


4.Marketing Projects

Characteristics: Focused on promoting products or services, market research, or launching marketing campaigns.

Challenges: Market dynamics, consumer behavior analysis, creative content development.

Management Focus: Creativity, understanding of market trends, data-driven decision-making, and clear communication strategies.


5.Organizational Change Projects

Characteristics: Involves changes in business processes, organizational structure, or corporate culture.

Challenges: Resistance to change, communication barriers, aligning diverse interests.

Management Focus: Change management strategies, effective communication, stakeholder engagement, and training.


6.Event Planning Projects

Characteristics: Planning and executing events such as conferences, weddings, or corporate functions.

Challenges: Time constraints, vendor coordination, client expectations, budget management.

Management Focus: Detailed planning, strong coordination skills, contingency planning, and customer service.


Each type of project demands a unique set of skills, knowledge, and management approaches. By recognizing the distinct nature of these projects, project managers can better prepare and adapt their strategies to ensure successful outcomes. This diversity in project types not only underscores the versatility required in project management but also highlights the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of this field.


The Lifecycle of a Project

Understanding the lifecycle of a project is crucial for effective project management. This lifecycle provides a framework for managing any project, regardless of its size or complexity. It typically consists of five distinct phases, each with its specific tasks and objectives.




This is the conceptual phase, where the project’s viability and feasibility are assessed. Key activities include defining the project at a high level, identifying initial requirements, and stakeholders, and securing approval to move forward.



Considered the backbone of project management, the planning phase involves detailing the project plan. This includes setting goals, defining roles and responsibilities, creating schedules, allocating resources, and planning for risks.



In this phase, the project plan is put into action. It involves the coordination of people and resources to carry out the project tasks as outlined in the project plan. Effective communication and stakeholder engagement are crucial during this phase.


4.Monitoring and Controlling

This concurrent phase with Execution involves tracking the project’s progress. It includes managing changes to the project scope, schedule, and costs, ensuring the project stays aligned with its objectives, and adjusting plans as needed.



The final phase marks the completion of the project. Activities include delivering the final product or service, releasing project resources, obtaining stakeholder acceptance, and conducting a post-project evaluation.


Each phase of the life cycle plays a critical role in the success of a project. By meticulously managing each phase, project managers can ensure that the project meets its objectives, stays within budget, and is completed on time. 


Competing Project Constraints

In the 4th edition of PMBOK released in 2008 by PMI, changes has been made to the popular notion of the triple constraint to 6 constraints. The constraints are interconnected, and a change in one can significantly impact the others.



Understanding and managing these constraints is crucial for the successful completion of a project.


Below are the 6 key competing project constraints


The schedule constraint refers to the time aspect of the project. It includes deadlines and milestones that the project must meet. Efficiently managing the schedule is vital to ensure timely delivery without compromising other aspects of the project.



This constraint covers all the physical and human resources required for the project. It includes personnel, equipment, facilities, and materials. Effective resource management ensures that the right resources are available at the right time and are used efficiently.



Scope encompasses the work required to complete the project objectives. It defines what is and is not included in the project. Balancing the project scope with other constraints like budget and schedule is a common challenge in project management.



Risk involves the potential for unforeseen events or conditions that could impact the project. Managing risk requires identifying, analyzing, and responding to risks, ensuring they are mitigated, and their impact is minimized.



The budget constraint relates to the financial resources available for the project. It involves managing costs so that the project can be completed within the allocated budget. This requires careful planning, cost estimating, and control.



Quality refers to the standards that the project outputs must meet. It’s about ensuring that the project deliverables satisfy the requirements and are fit for their intended use. Balancing quality with other constraints like scope, schedule, and budget is crucial for project success.

Managing these constraints is a balancing act. Project managers must continuously monitor and adjust each of these elements to keep the project on track.

This balancing of constraints is not just about compromise; it’s about finding the most efficient and effective way to deliver project objectives while maintaining standards and stakeholder satisfaction.



Understanding what a project is, its types, life cycle, and constraints is crucial for effective project management. This knowledge helps in turning ideas into successful outcomes, which is vital in today’s fast-paced environment.

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