In my last entrepreneur’s diary, I gave you a few citations from the article

Project Have a Detrimental Effect on Your Enterprise!

by Jens Hoffmann in

On me, the article had an electrifying effect. Does project management still do justice to a modern understanding of enterprises and society – and to our concept of humanity?
Perhaps the “New World“ currently rising over the horizon needs totally different organizational patterns? With no projects and therefore no project managers, but instead an agile transformation of the entire enterprise?

Maybe we will have to solve all our problems together if we want to survive together?

If I am confronted with such difficult questions, the first thing I do is try to understand the terminology of the discussion.

As usual, I start with wikipedia. What is Project Management? Here is what I find:

Project management is the discipline of planning, organizing, securing, and managing resources to achieve specific goals (Projekten).

Well, I can see that this does not really help. Planning, organizing, securing and manageing. That does not sound too bad. But what is being planned, secured and managed? A project! In that case, it must be an entity that can be subjected to planning organizing and managing.

Now I know: everything that can be planned, secured, organized and managed is a project! Is that a definition which would convince you? For me, it is not much help. So I continue reading in wikipedia. It says:

A project is a temporary endeavor (Vorhaben) with a defined beginning and end (usually time-constrained, and often constrained by funding or deliverables), undertaken to meet unique goals (Ziel) and objectives, typically to bring about beneficial change or added value…. The primary challenge of project management is to achieve all of the project goals and objectives while honoring the preconceived constraints. Typical constraints are scope, time, and budget.

So here we have it: the project rests on the columns goals and objectives. I have to proceed. There is a hyperlink on endeavor. However, you do not get an article if you follow it. The article must have been removed. Is it possible that the term “project“ already starts getting mushy at this point? Because we have no endeavor.

No! After all, I already know that:

Any endeavor that can be planned, organized, secured and managed is a project!

Now I will take a closer look at the second column, the “goal“. Here, too, wikipedia is doing poorly. The best I can find is:

The term goal or objective (greek τέλος [telos], Latin finis) is a desired result  someone envirions for the future.  Mostly, it includes that the future state should be different from the present state , as well as worth wishing for. Thus, a goal is a efined and desired final destinatio of a process, mostly involving human  activity . ‘Goal’ often means the success  of a  project or some more or less strenuous work. Examples: the destination of a journey, quality goals  , entrepreneurial goals  or managing to best a certain time or other marker in an athletic  competition.

The word future plays an important role. And – according to the definition – the goal is always at the end of a process. That is a totally new term (incidentally, there is a hyperlink on it in the definition). I look up the term process  and get a long entry – which does not satisfy me.

So what is the difference between a process and a project? Is a project goal the same as a process goal? Or is there no such thing as a process goal, but just a process result (a typing mistake in wikipedia?). Or is the project goal just an attempt at formulating the desired/planned process result.

In this sense, might the process be the real incarnation of a fictive project? And is it then the job of the project manager to combine fiction and reality?
Now I have the solution of the problem:

Every process that can be planned, organized, secured and managed is a project. All you have to do is make the result of the process your project goal.

🙂 An absolute win-win situation.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder. Don’t we have a highly interlinked and multi-dimentional context sensitive process network in all the worlds we know? Is it possible that same network might be more efficiently and more successfully changed with totally different approaches, instead of planning, organizing, securing and managing? Well, at least I get more and more the suspicion that this is so.

Consequently, wikipedia is not really any help. Wikipedia obviously has a hard time with project management. That is not a good sign. I will, however, not give up. Instead, I will look and see what the words “project“ and “manage“ actually mean in English. I presume that they were originally Latin terms, but I know no Latin.

(Translated by EG)

You will find all the articles of my entrepreneur’s diary if you click here: Drehscheibe

4 Kommentare zu “Entrepreneur’s Diary #65 What Exactly Is – Project Management? (An Attempt at Definition-I)”

  1. Chris Wood (Thursday January 19th, 2012)

    Dear Roland, I think some of your problems lie in the German language. Internationally, such things are discussed mostly in English. Here, there is a fairly clear distinction between “project” and “process”.

    As you write, a project has an objective, a start and an end. The concept helps to divide work into manageable subsets, with limited lifetimes. So one avoids having to consider the activities of a firm or country all at once, (throughout all the future). This is both useful and dangerous. For instance, there is great danger in developing a piece of software, and declaring this project successfully completed, without considering the problems of maintenance, and of porting to new hardware or a new operating system.

    A process on the other hand is a method or system, which may well have objectives, but is not limited in time. Of course everything, (except a sausage), has an end, but this is not part of the nature of a process. For instance evolution is a process that has no objective, and will come to an end when life ceases to be possible. Another example is the Haber-Bosch process for producing ammonia. But a human life is a project rather than a process.

    In German, the word “Prozess” is used differently, for instance for a trial in court. This is clearly a project rather than a process. It terminates in a decision about guilt, and perhaps decisions about punishment, compensation, costs, etc. Of course there may be appeals and the decisions may be revised in the light of new evidence. This all belongs to the judicial process.

    So I agree only partly with the headline, “Projekte sind schädlich für die Gesundheit Ihres Unternehmens”! One should not work entirely in terms of projects that are limited in time and scope. Enough consideration should be given to the long-term processes of a firm. But projects have their uses, to prevent a firm just muddling along.

  2. rd (Thursday January 19th, 2012)

    Lieber Chris, im Deutschen haben viele Begriffe oft völlig verschiedene Bedeutungen. Denke an den Star, der einen Vogel wie eine Krankheit beziffern kann.

    Genauso hat der (Gerichts-)Prozess aber auch gar nichts zu tun zum Beispiel mit dem (Produktions-Prozess) oder mit einem “Prozess” im Sinne von festgelegter “best practise”).

    Und Deine Definition wenn auch in Englisch wie “A process on the other hand is a method or system, which may well have objectives, but is not limited in time …” sagen für mich überhaupt nichts aus.

    Was soll das heißen: “Ziele haben, aber nicht in der Zeit begrenzt sein”? Also nur qualitative und nicht bezifferbare Ziele? Damit könnte ich mich schon wieder anfreunden 🙂

    Zu “But projects have their uses, to prevent a firm just muddling along.”. Ich kenne eher Unternehmen, wo die Projekte fürs “muddling” sorgen.

  3. Chris Wood (Thursday January 19th, 2012)

    Roland, all languages that I know have words with multiple completely different meanings. For instance German has “Fahne” meaning flag or alcoholic breath. English has “flag” meaning “Fahne” or “Flagge”. Such cases are needed so one can make puns! No, I meant rather that German seems to have a lot of cases where one word has various slightly different meanings. I also had in mind the “false friends” where English and German words are very similar, but have rather different meanings.

    As an example of a process with objectives, consider running a firm, with profitability and security as objectives (year after year).

    I was not trying to define the word “process”. That would take too long. I was just trying to show the main difference between a project and a process, which seemed unclear to you. Then I could explain that both are useful, especially in conjunction.

    Of course, badly defined projects can cause confusion. They can also lead to uncooperative behaviour between people concentrating on separate projects. But there are also cases where everybody tries to work well, but they need to get clear ideas of what they want to achieve in the near future.

    I could confuse us further by introducing the word “procedure”.

  4. Martin Bartonitz (Saturday July 4th, 2015)

    Lieber Roland,

    tolles Thema in einer Welt, in der Veränderungen immer schneller werden.

    Mir fiel spontan ein zu fragen, wann in Unternehmen ein Projekt gestartet wird. Sieht mir so aus, dass immer dann, wenn Änderungen aufgeschoben wurden, und nicht mehr zu ertragen sind, die Notwendigkeit entsteht, nun alles auf einmal aufzuholen. Gut, manchmal mag das nicht vermeidbar sein, wenn z.B. eine veraltete Hard- oder Software ausgetauscht werden muss, oder die Firma an einen anderen Standort ziehen muss.

    In anderen Fällen könnte ein Team sicher selbstorganisiert die kleinen Änderungen sofort angehen. In SCRUM gibt es die “Zeremonie” der Retrospektive, in der das, das gut lief und verstärkt werden soll, als auch das, was nervte zu dem eine Änderungsmaßnahme beschlossen und umgesetzt wird. Diese Maßnahme ist für sicher ein kleines Projekt und wird in der Regel von dem Teammitglied mit der meisten Erfahrung umgesetzt.

    Würde mich freuen, wenn Du Deinen nächsten Artikel zu diesem Thema auch bei Initiative Wirschaftsdemokratie veröffentlichen würdest, denn es passt 🙂

    Herzliche Grüße

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