What is a Project - Major Six questions that define a project

What is a Project – Major Six questions that define a project

Educational Project Management Education

What is a Project – Major Six questions that define a project


A business opportunity is envisioned, or an improvement/upgrade in a product is required, hence giving rise to a “project“- a  unique, temporary endeavour, which utilizes shared resources – hence, the Initiation/Scoping of the project becomes apparent. Planning is the next step to making its execution, monitoring and control, and closure successful. In doing so there are several formal methods employed to achieve this.  The project management fundamental approaches are poised to answer six basic questions, which are in turn related to the Project Management Process Groups – Scoping (Initiating), Planning, Lunching (Executing), Monitoring and Control, and Closing the project as detailed hereunder.

What business situation is being addressed?

The goal and objectives is the background for the deliverables required for a project. If this stage is not well defined, the likelihood of the project to succeed is slim.

The opportunity or problem to be solved may arise from potential customers’ demands or existing customers’ recommendations, establishment of a new business entity in an organization, or new product development; technological advancement, legal requirement, ecological impacts, and social need. A typical example is the Nigeria EGTL1 Project, which is aimed at natural gas liquefaction process, and reductions of gas flaring – global demand of the gasses encourage investors to plunge into the business opportunities it offers.

Now, the scoping or initiation stage consists of the formal endorsement of senior management to start the new project, which is usually external to the project scope of control. Before beginning the Initiation Process Group activities, the organization’s business needs or requirements are documented. The feasibility of the new undertaking may be established through a process of evaluating alternatives to pick the best one. PMBOK Guide (2004, p.43).


 What needs to be done?

This stage is where the business requirement is analysed in terms of measurable goals, stakeholders, fiscal analysis, cost estimate and even comparing with presently running system and operations, if any.

 The client and contractor needs to be sure they understand each other correctly. What the clients want may not be what the client actually needs to address the pertinent business condition.  Proper studying, discussing, defining and analysing the project and detailed objectives are required here to ascertain the much needed deliverables – brainstorming is a good tool to analyse and generate project strategies or approaches – what needs to be done – conditions of satisfaction (COS).

The client has to specific, the goal should be measurable, action –oriented (assignable), and realistic. Both parties (client and contractor) need to be very sure of what is actually the goal and objectives to effectively scope and plan the project in order to avoid creeps.

A particular example in EGTL1 project, where I work now, occurred when several ASU (Air Separation Unit) and Utilities modifications were made by us (the contractor) as against what the client Chevron/SGC actually wants. In order to narrow it down to Unit 72A (Power Steam), in the Process Boiler area, Instrument Air Supply Manifold to some Valves requires proximity of the Air Manifold to the Valves. The Air Manifold Schedule was prepared based on what the clients wants without considering tubing range (more materials waste). We had to redesign the schedule to suite the locations of valves; close enough to reduce tubing and cost, much cleaner, technically acceptable and reduced maintenance cost.

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Another example was the facts that Instrument Secondary Cables (cables from last Junction Box to the field instrument) should be 40 meters. But the locations of some of the Junctions Boxes were altered for technical reasons to reduce the longest cables to be the primary cable from the Instrument Building (RIBS). As such, the cables needs to be rescaled as per the lengths from instruments to the Junction Boxes; once again done by us, the contractors, after reaching a consensus with the client to change the scope of the project.

In my immediate former place of work, the contractor was my employer and the Client was Nigeria LNG in Bonny. I was contacted when things were actually going bad. It was a Plant Road Lighting Project.

The question at the time was that the goal was well defined, which is the Plant Lighting for Road 33, which was relocated due to proposed expansion plans of the NLNG Trains. But the specification (quality), cost (budget) and time (schedule) were not clearly defined. How the client want it was not clear, and what details of works required were not clear. It was so bad that when I came in I had to make it clear of the deliverables based on my experience in the field – cost, duration, and specification.

As a project manager, you will have to be to able educe clear and complete statement of the problem, and how you intend to proffer solutions to the problem Wysocki, R.(2009, p.24)

The main purpose of your objective is to help keep your planning focused. A project that is not planned well probably won’t succeed – the main purpose keeping the organisation’s objective clear is to keep its plan focused.


What will be done?

What needs to be done has been clearly defined and analysed; now it is time for the project manager to decide the strategies to be used to meet the client’s requirements, plan the project using tools like requirement breakdown structure to effectively determine which project management methodology will be best suited for the particular project. Brainstorming alternative strategies to reach the goal of the client at this stage is considerable, which can lead to more effective solution to stakeholder needs, wants, and expectations), thresholds, and acceptance criteria.

As much as all the client’s needs will want to be met, it is possible that the project manager will need outsourcing (vendor soliciting), which will provide part of the solution to the problem.  Wysocki R. (2009, p.25) clearly depicted that a partial solution may be all that you can provide, and others will have to pick up the pieces and provide additional parts of the solution.

There are lot of vendors here in EGTL1 Project, who actually put the pieces to together at different stages of the project. Yokogawa, Bentley, Air Products, General Electric (GE), SIELTE, are few examples of vendors who provide resources and technical capabilities at different stages of the project when it comes to their area of expertise.

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It is against these backgrounds that the project manager will determine the best-fit project management methodology or methodologies to use – traditional, agile/ adaptive, or extreme.


How will it be done?

This is where the planning process for tangible solution to the business situation is drawn. Mere work description timing analysis, resources allocation, and cost will be the normal dictum here. However, like Wysocki R. (2009, p.25) pointed out the reality of developing such a complete plan is not always possible. A just-in-time plan model would be the one that pops ups during the project execution. A very important tool here will be the work break down structure (WBS), which is the detailed  description of the various units and subunits of job scope to be done – a milestone. For instance EGTL1 project milestone1 was Critical Power Generation (unit 73B) for plant utilities power, and milestone 2, just completed as the time of writing, was Demineralization /Aquifer Water Plant (Unit 71), the third milestone is Power and Steam (Unit 72 A), and so on.  


How will you know it was done?

The project is completed now, and the measurable business criteria come to play to evaluate how much it is satisfied together with client’s requirements.

Success criteria should be clearly stated at the beginning of the project to extent that it reflects at the end of the project to ascertain whether they are met or not (Wysocki R. 2009, p.26). It is a quantified statement made by the client during the early stages of the project. – Increased revenue, reduced cost, improved service.

In this phase the acceptance test is performed to evaluate the extent the deliverables are posed to production. In many cases the success criteria cannot be demonstrated until well after the deployment phase. Lessons learned with respect to the deliverables and the process for creating the deliverables are documented and posted for others to use as appropriate (Wysocki R. 2006, p.65).

Post-mortem is carried out via quality planning, quality assurance and quality testing and control procedures to measure performance to the plan and success criteria. In my place of work, there is a Quality Assurance /Quality Control (QA/QC) department whose job to ensure job procedures are followed, jobs are carried out according the client’s requirements and standards, and to ensure the outcome will serve the business situations envisaged – the “Monitoring and Control” project management process group.


How well was it done?

If the project successfully executed will serve the purpose, goal and requirement of the client and stakeholder involved, then it will have been said to be fruitful. How well it was done can be determine by evaluating the project management model used  and related documentation. Was the chosen method prolific? Did it proffer solutions to underlying problems analysed? Did it actually fit the needs of the project? Was the model(s) used well suited and followed by the project team.

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The responses to those questions will determine the extent of success the project was. Technically, these analyses will help in discovering new alternatives to improve performance should lapses were observed before final closure of the project. Hence the project cannot be closed when the success criteria and all specifications are not met. This is “Closing” project management process group as indicated by PMBOK Guide (2004, p.43) that, when completed, verifies that the defined processes are completed within all the Process Groups to close the project or a project phase, as appropriate, and formally establishes that the project or project phase is finished. That is to say, all other project management process groups, especially, Planning, Launching, and Monitoring and Control process groups, are weighted against the final completion process to determine the how well it was done; whether to be certified completed, rejected or cancelled.



Project management, as we have seen, is answer to the six basic questions analysed above, which, in addition are indispensable of the project management process groups defined by Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). These process groups form the basic block of guides for project management. Any successful project should include a well-defined goal and objective, and success criteria. Once the potential business, or product development is identified (business situation) and the goals and objectives are specified (what needs to be done), the road is now clear to strategize and chose what model of project management will be used (how will it be done). Progress report, monitoring and control are obviously necessary in the execution of a project, which will answer the questions, how will you know it was done, and how well was it done?

Critical definition of project success is evidently important, because that is how one will be evaluated as a project manager. Unfortunately, there are almost as many definitions of project success as there are project management professionals. To add to the confusion, every organization has its own view of what matters in project outcomes as depicted by Heerkens, G. (2002. p.26). Consequently, meeting the project target, customer requirement, project efficiency, and how it improves on the organisation is the major concern of the project manager.




Wysocki, R. K. (2009). Effective Project Management, Traditional ,Agile, Extreme. 5th Edition, John Wiley & Son, Indianapolis

Wysocki, R. K. (2006). Effective Software Project Management, John Wiley & Son, Indianapolis.

PMBOK Guide. (2004). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 3rd Edition, American National Standard,  ANSI/PMI 99-001-2004.

Schwaber, K. (2004). Agile Project Management with Scrum, Microsoft Press, One Microsoft Way Redmond, Washington 98052-6399

Heerkens, G.R. (2002). Project Management, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Lisbon, Madrid, Mexico City, Milan, New Delhi, San Juan, Seoul, Singapore, Sydney Toronto.

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