Project Definition | The Meaning of a Project

What is a project?

In this article, I will explain the project definition and how it differs from tasks.

It is common practice to use the words project and task in work. However, although those words are somehow recognized as units of work, there may be surprisingly few business people who understand their meaning accurately. A deeper understanding of words will help you capture their essence and change your attitude towards business.

What is project management?

Table of contents:

  • Project definition
  • What is a task?
  • Relationship between project and task
  • Factors that cause a project to fail

Project definition

First, let's take a look at a project.

The definition of a project:

  • A set of multiple tasks to achieve a single target
  • The target can be small or large
  • It is carried out by human hands
  • Often carried out not only within the company but also in cooperation with other companies
  • There is a fixed deadline to achieve the target
  • There is always a start point and a finish point
  • Manage the halfway point and check the progress
  • Most of the time, it is a group effort

Many people seem to have a misconception about the term project team. In one of the course workshops, when asked to draw an organizational chart of a project, about 70% of the group draws an organizational chart that says, Under the project manager, there is a sales department, a manufacturing department, an engineering department, a marketing department, and a quality assurance department. However, this means the actual departments, not the project team.

The project team involves several teams, such as the IT team, marketing team, prototype and mass production team, sales promotion team, and design team. On top of that, the right people from each department come together to form a single team. Since some companies are vertically divided organizations, there are many cases where this concept of a project team is not well understood, and hence barriers to projects often arise.

What is a task?

The word task means imposed effort in English, and it is often used in the sense of one task at a time to carry out a project.

To be more specific, a task is "a work to be done." If you use the expression "assign tasks," it means that the project manager assigns tasks to each team, and if you use the expression "tasks are completed," it means that the work has been completed.

Other than this, the term "task" is most often used in the software field. A task in software means "a process to be executed" or "a situation in which an application is running." 

If you are using a Windows 10 computer, you can right-click on the taskbar and see the "Task Manager" item, which lists all the applications (tasks) that are currently running. 

If you are using a Mac, the "Activity Monitor" is equivalent to the Task Manager.

As you can see, the meaning of the word "task" changes depending on the situation in which you use the word.

Relationship between projects and tasks

The project consists of various tasks, plans, human resources, and equipment necessary for achieving business goals (e.g., starting mass production of new products, introducing ERP, etc.). The work of accomplishing a project is called a task, and you can accomplish a project by completing the tasks one by one. Let me give you one example:

Construction and full-scale operation of ERP:


  • Survey of actual business conditions
  • Analysis of business issues
  • Risk analysis
  • ERP system requirements definition
  • Operational planning
  • ERP system external design
  • ERP system internal design
  • Program development
  • Regular progress meetings
  • Program unit testing
  • Program integration test
  • ERP system comprehensive testing
  • ERP system operation test
  • Full-scale ERP system operation

The above is a rough outline of the tasks for a project called "Construction and full-scale operation of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning)."

There are more detailed tasks in an actual project, and by sharing and executing them across teams, you can get the project closer to completion. The number of people involved in projects varies, large and small, but the relationship between the project and the tasks is the same.

Factors that cause a project to fail

There are many projects, large and small, scattered throughout a company, being worked on simultaneously. Unfortunately, not all of these projects are successful. Some fail due to a combination of various factors. What are these factors?

Factor 1: Lack of communication among the team

Many projects fail due to poor team communication. If the team does not communicate smoothly, information sharing is not facilitated, and the information necessary to drive the project forward is delayed, resulting in project delays. Furthermore, if there is a misunderstanding about quality information, the finished product will not meet the quality standards.

Factor 2: Lack of clear guidelines for the project

There are many cases where a project is launched, but the policy shifts in the middle of the project without a clear guideline. Without clear guidelines, it is not easy to manage the project progress, and so the project drifts further and further away from its goal.

Factor 3: Disorganized chain of command

When there are multiple managers in a project, and they are not communicating smoothly, the team's chain of command is disrupted, and the field becomes confused. In particular, most projects that have a strong political element will fail.

Factor 4: Tight project schedule

In some projects, the schedule may become quite tight due to unreasonable deadlines from the customer. This tends to neglect quality control, resulting in poor quality deliverables that fail to meet schedules.

It is not uncommon for projects to fail due to the above factors. In the manufacturing industry and the IT industry, the same factors almost always lead to failure. The first important thing is to create a system that facilitates team communication. And you will also need a management tool that gives you a bird's eye view of the project.

Once you understand the meaning of the words in your project, consider what it takes to make your project successful.

See also:
Why do We Need Project Management?
WBS – Work Breakdown Structure in Project Management
Gantt Chart Project Management
Items Required for Project Management
10 Principles of Project Management for New Project Managers

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