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Project Definition Based on ISO 21500

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Project definition based on ISO 21500.

It takes half your life before you discover life is a do-it-yourself project. – Napoleon Hill

Today we are going to discuss the Project definition within the ISO 21500 Guide for Project Management. Please share your comments! 🙂

ISO 21500 defines a Project as “a unique set of processes consisting of coordinated and controlled activities with start and finish dates, undertaken to achieve an objective.

From this definition, we can highlight the following facts:

1. Unique

The “unique” purpose of a Project is the main idea we need to understand from the Project concept, because this is the key difference from a Service (ongoing operations). So, “unique” means that the objective and also the processes execution will be performed only once. In conclusion, “unique” means that a Project is always temporary.

Someone could think that ISO 21500 requires a unique set of processes, while at the same time it defines a standard set of 40 processes. With regards to this point, ISO 21500 maintains: “Although many projects may be similar, each project is unique as differences may occur in the deliverables provided by the project; the stakeholders influencing the project; the resources used; and the way processes are adapted to create the deliverables.

This way, ISO 21500 clarifies that the “unique” term is referring to the Project word. And in regard to the “unique set of processes”, it really means to say that the set of processes needs to be “adapted” (but not reinvented) from the standard.

2. Set of Processes

ISO 21500 identifies 3 types of processes:

  • Project Management Processes
  • Product Processes
  • Support Processes

The standard addresses 39 Project Management processes, for being adapted by each Project Manager (PM). But the other two types often overlap and interact throughout the project with the Project Management processes, and in fact are part of the Implementation phase.

3. Coordinated and controlled Activities

The purpose of the Guide for Project Management is to give certainty to Business that our Project is managed and controlled in a professional manner. So, activities are clearly defined, estimated (in time and cost), structured (coordinated), and monitored (controlled) in the Implementation phase. The Critical Success Factors (CSF) for this point are Integration Management, Stakeholder Management and Communications Management. Each Project Manager (PM) should master these CSFs.

4. Start and finish dates

As we mentioned before, the main difference in a Project from a Service is that a Project is temporary. It has an initial and final deadline. Also each of the activities is temporary, with start and finish dates.

ISO 21500 also considers dividing a project into Phases, and then managing each of the phases as a Project. That means, driving a complete Project Lifecycle for each phase as a project that starts and ends.

5. Achieve an Objective

The objective of any Project must be clearly defined in the Business Case, accepted by the Sponsor of the project and communicated to the Stakeholders and Project Team. During the Project, there may be a lot of changes, but they shouldn’t change the purpose/objective of the Project, because in this case we would simply be in another new Project.

What is your view about the Project concept within ISO 21500?

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