Project Definition - Explained
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Table of ContentsWhat is a Project?What is the Project Definition?What are Project Constraints?What is the Triple Constraint? Example of a Project DefinitionWhat are the Standards for a Project Definition?What is a Business Case?What is a Feasibility Study?
What is a Project?
There is no single definition for a project. The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.
- Non-Routine: A project generally concerns a process or undertaking that is not part of the ordinary functions or operations of the business.
- Time: A key attribute of a project is that it is for a finite period of time with a contemplated beginning and end.
- Goals: The project is goal or milestone-oriented. This is, the objective of the project is to accomplish an identified set of goals with the allotted time. These goals are derived from the interests of all stakeholders involved.
What is the Project Definition?
The earliest stage or project management begins with defining the project or creating a “project definition”, also known as a project charter or project statement. A well-defined project, will include specific objectives that are actionable or capable of being accomplished.
Common elements to consider or include in the project definition are:
- Project Vision: Vision concerns the future or where something will go. This is generally stakeholder-driven. It will begin with the expected outcome of the project. From there, the project manager or team can develop the individual objectives for the accomplishment of the goals.
- Project Scope: The scope of the project identifies and sets limits on the activities, tasks, and decisions that will be taken or carried out during the project. These are often broken down by how they related to the individual objectives of the project.
- Planned Deliverables: The project deliverables include the results or manifestations of the project. What will be the output of the tasks undertaken, as they relate to the objectives of the project. The deliverables generally combine physical work product (tangible) with systems and processes for continued implementation (logical or intangible).
- Success Criteria: The goals of the project will be broken down by objectives. All stakeholders and individuals involved in the planning, implementation, and review of the project must reach a consensus on what it means to achieve the objectives. This includes identifying work output, the criteria for accepting the output, and the standards by which quality of that output is measured.
- Authority of Project Manger - The definition should include a description of the authority of the project manager with regard to the objectives of the project.
- Phases, Tasks and Activities: Any project will take place in defined phases. There will be specific tasks required of the project manager and team during each phase of the project. Each task will be made of a litany of activities.
What are Project Constraints?
On any project, you will have a number of project constraints, including.
- Cost - Costs are a part of the budget. They require the allocation of finite resources.
- Scope - The scope is the extent and nature of work involved in the project. It must be fixed to a defined set of undertakings.
- Quality - Quality concerns the extent to which which the input into the project management process meets industry standards and the expectations of the stakeholders involved. Quality on a project is controlled through quality assurance (QA), the process of evaluating the overall performance of the project.
- Risk - Risk is the possibility that an undesirable outcome and the impact that it may have on the project.
- Resources - These are the elements required to carry out the project - such as human labor, physical materials, finances, etc.
Time - The time for completion of any task of function in a project is finite.
What is the Triple Constraint?
The term “triple constraint,” consists of time, cost, and scope as constraints on a project. The constraints are all dependent on each other.
Example of a Project Definition
- Identification Section - List the project name, the date of the current version of the project charter, the sponsor’s name and authority, and the project manager’s name.
- Overview of the Project - Provide a simple but precise statement of the project.
Objectives - State the objectives of the project clearly and ensure they contain a measure of how to assess whether they have been achieved. The statement should be realistic and should follow the
- SMART protocol:
- Specific (get into the details)
- Measurable (use quantitative language so that you know when you are finished)
- Acceptable (to stakeholders)
- Realistic (given project constraints)
- Time based (deadlines, not durations)
- SMART protocol:
- Scope - Specify the scope of the project by identifying the domain or range of requirements. It is equally important to include in the scope what is not included in the project.
- Major Milestones - List all major milestones needed to ensure project completion successfully.
- Major Deliverables - List and describe the major deliverables that will result from the project.
- Assumptions - Outline the assumptions made in creating the project. An assumption is a fact of which you are unsure but can either confirm at a later time or are simply stating so that the project can proceed as if the statement were true.
- Constraints - Define any and all constraints on the project or those working on the project. This is an important part of the project charter. A constraint is anything that limits the range of solutions or approaches.
- Business Need or Opportunity (Benefits) - Provide a concise statement of the business need or opportunity that led to the creation of the project. Why was it created? What are the benefits? How does the project contribute to organizational objectives?
- Preliminary Cost for the Project - Provide a statement indicating how the cost of the project will be defined and controlled.
- Project Risks - A risk is anything uncertain that may occur that will reduce or decrease the chances of project success.
- Project Charter Acceptance - Provide the names, titles, and signature lines of the individuals who will sign off on the project charter.
- Project Stakeholders - Provide the key stakeholders and team members by function, name, and role.
What are the Standards for a Project Definition?
In addition to the various elements included in the definition, these elements must have specific characteristics of meets determined standards. Some generally guidelines for each element of the definition include:
- Explicit. Clearly state (in unambiguous terms) the stakeholder expectations and requirements for each element of the project.
- Measurable. The results or accomplishment of each element of the project definition must be associated with measurable outcomes. This allows the accomplishment of objectives to be compared against established benchmarks.
- Relevant. All of the objectives must relate closely to the overall goals of the project. This means that each objective should be necessary and capable of achievement.
- Time-bound. Each element must fit with the overall project timeline. They must be capable of completion in a finite, identified period. They will be marked with deadlines and milestones.
- Flexible. Projects definitions must be adaptable and capable of modifications to meet project demands through the project cycle.
What is a Business Case?
A business case defines the problem or opportunity in detail and identify a preferred solution for implementation. The business case includes:
- A detailed description of the problem or opportunity with headings such as Introduction, Business Objectives, Problem/Opportunity Statement, Assumptions, and Constraints
- A list of the alternative solutions available
- An analysis of the business benefits, costs, risks, and issues
- A description of the preferred solution
- Main project requirements
- A summarized plan for implementation that includes a schedule and financial analysis
The business case must clearly identify the project’s objectives and describe the need or opportunity for which the project will provide a solution.
State the objectives it in such a way that it can be verified by building in ways to measure achievement. It is important to provide quantifiable definitions to qualitative terms.
Make certain that all of the objectives are realistic and achievable.
The project sponsor then approves the business case, and the required funding is allocated to proceed with a feasibility study.
What is a Feasibility Study?
A feasibility study is conducted by the sponsor (based upon information presented by the project team) to determine if the project is worth undertaking and whether the project will be profitable to the organization.
The completion and approval of the feasibility study triggers the beginning of the planning phase.
The feasibility study may also show that the project is not worth pursuing and the project is terminated; thus the next phase never begins.
The success of your project depends on the clarity and accuracy of your business case and whether people believe they can achieve it.