What Elements Distinguish a Project from Work?

Not everything that is done is classified as a project, though much of what we do at work can be defined as a project. However, many of our everyday tasks are simply defined as “work“. Differing from projects, “work” tasks are repeated on a routine basis (for example, daily, weekly, or monthly). Projects have clear, measurable goals and deliver a tangible product or service at completion. In addition, projects have a defined beginning and end, whereas work is on-going. Some differences between the work and projects follow in the table.

Work  Project
Post today’s stock price on the company website. Redesign the company website.
Respond to end-user support calls. Correct a defect in a business application.
Run month-end reports. Enhance key business application with new reports.
Attending a trade show. Planning your company’s exhibit, from design, to post show follow-ups.




What is the Primary Difference Between a Project and Work?

The main difference between a project and everyday work is the tangible result at the end of the process. There are four points that help to clarify what makes projects different from routine work.

  • Time: A project has a distinct beginning and end. There is a clear progression of tasks from start to end.
  • Resources: People, money, and time have been set aside specifically for the task at hand. The team assigned to do the work is also temporary.
  • Goals: The project will create something that enhances the organization and makes it easier (hopefully) for the company to perform its business. Projects create change and will improve productivity, profits, or other aspects of a business.
  • Plan: Projects should follow a set of organized tasks. These tasks are summarized in a project plan.

What is the Differences Between a Project and Operations?

People also confuse a project with on-going operations; the difference is that projects are temporary, and operations are on-going, like work. Project managers can help the health care workforce, for example, to get organized, collaborate, and accomplish the tasks—both large and small—that drive important projects. Routine operations, such as ordering supplies and caring for patients, are considered routine work. Operations managers may be tasked with administrative functions while project managers utilize a holistic suite of skills.

A project manager must be organized, knowledgeable, flexible, and be proficient at managing many different aspects of the project at once. For example, health care projects can be challenging because of the need to assemble administrative and technical staff, such as information technology specialists, with professional staff, such as physicians and nurses. Because these groups may have incongruous viewpoints it may be difficult for the project manager to build cohesive project management teams. However, it is the responsibility of the project manager to create and instill an environment that develops both the hard and soft skills of the project team. Regardless of the size of a project, the perceived difficulty of the effort, or the relative importance of the outcome, all projects need to be planned and managed effectively and efficiently.

What are Some Attributes of a Project?

Projects come in all sizes and shapes: some are small and are completed in just a few weeks; while other projects may be large, crossing international boundaries, and require years to complete. However, all projects share the following attributes.

A project has a unique purpose. Every project delivers one or more well-defined objectives. Again, this is part of the definition of a project in that it results in a unique product, service, or result.

A project is temporary. Projects have definitive beginnings and endings. The project has a start date and is planned for completion on another date in the future. The team working on the project is also temporary in nature.

A project requires a temporary team of cross-functional resources. The temporary team that is assigned to work on the project represents all of the functions necessary to complete the work These resources work together on the project cross-functionally.

A project involves uncertainty. All projects introduce change and therefore involve some degree of uncertainty. Since the outcome of each separate product is unique, it can be challenging to determine, in advance, how long a project will take or how much it will cost.

What is Project Management?

In the simplest terms, project management includes the activities related to ensuring the resources do what they are supposed to do and when they are supposed to do it. It is the process of initiatingplanningexecutingmonitoring and controlling, and closing a project. One way to visualize project management is to imagine a house being constructed. You cannot put the roof on before the walls are up, and you cannot lay the carpet before the sub-flooring is laid. Understandably, it is not productive to have many workers running around doing whatever task they want, in whatever order they want, for however long they want. You need someone in charge—a project manager—to make sense of all the work that must be accomplished to meet the stated goals (building a house). Project management is a professional discipline—it is a combination of art and science—and when done well, project management is highly respected. It is a growing career field.

Note that project management is not a discipline found only in North America; it is utilized around the world and in all industries. Similar advances in the discipline also occurred in Europe and other parts of the world, since major infrastructure and government-sponsored projects usually drive the project management process. These types of projects are often large, costly, and risky, and thus benefit greatly from project management practices.

Project Management Continues to Improve

Despite the great strides made in developing best practices for project management, there is still yet room to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the processes.  Continually improving tools, techniques, and templates as well as outstanding project managers are needed to ensure that projects will succeed.


Projects are defined as being temporary in nature and accomplishing change in an organization. Projects require a temporary team of resources to carry out the work and the outcome of a project is a product, service, or other result.

Project management is a field of study that includes all of the activities necessary to successfully manage and administer the implementation of a project.


Project. (n.d.). In Dictionary.com Online Dictionary. Retrieved from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/project

Project Management Institute (PMI). (2013). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide). Newtown Square, PA: Author.

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