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Right understanding of the definition and key characteristics of project is of significant importance. Any project is not just a way to make or do something but it’s an opportunity to achieve some desired result by implementing a systematic management approach (for example, producing a product or sharing knowledge).

An individual or organization involved in projects needs to understand how to solve complexity of problems through project management. In this article we’ll define the term “project”, describe the key characteristics of a project, and explain how to distinguish a project from an activity.

What is a Project? – The Definition
Project is a great opportunity for organizations and individuals to achieve their business and non-business objectives more efficiently through implementing change. Projects help us make desired changes in an organized manner and with reduced probability of failure.

As follows from the given definition, any project can be characterized by these characteristics:
This key characteristic means that every project has a finite start and a finite end. The start is the time when the project is initiated and its concept is developed. The end is reached when all objectives of the project have been met (or unmet if it’s obvious that the project cannot be completed – then it's terminated).

Unique Deliverable(s):
Any project aims to produce some deliverable(s) which can be a product, service, or some another result. Deliverables should address a problem or need analyzed before project start.

Progressive Elaboration:
With the progress of a project, continuous investigation and improvement become available, and all this allows producing more accurate and comprehensive plans. This key characteristic means that the successive iterations of planning processes result in developing more effective solutions to progress and develop projects.

In addition to the listed characteristics, a conventional project is:

  • Purposeful as it has a rational and measurable purchase
  • Logical as it has a certain life-cycle
  • Structured as it has interdependencies between its tasks and activities
  • Conflict as it tries to solve a problem that creates some kind of conflict
  • Limited by available resources
  • Risk as it involves an element of risk

Some examples of a project are:

  • Developing a new product or service
  • Constructing a building or facility
  • Renovating the kitchen
  • Designing a new transportation vehicle
  • Acquiring a new or modified data system
  • Organizing a meeting
  • Implementing a new business process

On Tuesday, transport minister Philip Hammond confirmed funding for 24 road and public transport schemes around England (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own transport budgets). Mapping these suggests that the coalition government is trying to build bridges in the north - literally, if you include the Mersey Gateway Bridge between Runcorn and Widnes - with two-thirds of the projects in an area roughly bounded by Mansfield, Liverpool, Lancaster and Leeds.

The projects include 14 major road schemes (in red on the map), most of which involve squeezing more capacity out of existing motorways through use of variable speed limits and hard shoulder running (for more, see this article). Such schemes need lots of expensive hardware, including surveillance and speed cameras, illuminated speed limit signs on gantries and cabling to connect and power it all, but that is still much cheaper financially and environmentally than new lanes or roads.

The apparent northern bias may be explained by the fact that what is technically known as active traffic management is already in use on several sections of the M25 around London and the 'Birmingham box' of motorways. Hammond confirmed new schemes on the M60 west of Manchester, on two sections of the cross-Pennine M62 and on three sections of the M1 in Derbyshire and Yorkshire. He also green-lighted extensions for two sections of the M25 and for much of the M6 in northern Birmingham.

The north has also been favoured in the government's choice of local transport schemes with six of the 10 local transport schemes (in yellow on the map) - although the list did not include rail, where the government looks set to focus its spending in London. The other four are in Taunton, Exeter, Ipswich and the West Midlands, which will get an extension to its Metro tram system.

The transport department says regional distribution was not a factor in its decisions, with each project considered on its merits. And it's true that if the coalition was trying to woo the north, it has delivered for its more populous southerly section while forgetting Labour's north east heartland.

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