Chapter 1 – Introduction to Project Management for Human Resources

1.2. Project Management (PM) Definitions


An HR project has distinctive attributes that distinguish it from ongoing work or business operations. A project according to PMBOK Guide (Project Management Book of Knowledge) is “a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique project service or results” (Project Management Institute, 2008, p.434). Specifically, projects are temporary in nature. Therefore, they are not an everyday business process. They are unique and have definitive start dates and end dates. This characteristic is important because a large part of the project effort is dedicated to ensuring that the project is completed at the appointed time. To do this, schedules are created showing when tasks should begin and end. Projects can last minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years.

HR projects exist to bring about a product or service that has not existed before. In this sense, a project is unique. Unique means that this is new; it has never been done before. Maybe it’s been done in a very similar fashion before but never exactly in this way.

HR in Focus

The Human Resources department in a company has many functions which may include: payroll, recruitment, employee relations, and training and development. Each function is comprised of specific activities and tasks as well as specific projects.  Some project examples could be:

  • Recruitment and hiring may design a project to upgrade their orientation program.
  • Payroll and benefits might coordinate a project to explore a Human Resources Information System (HRIS).

The projects are different from each other with different team members who have different skills specific to the project.  Each project would also have a different purpose.  The design of each project would be unique to the outcomes of the project. Yet, the actual human resources department would be considered an operation with ongoing, repetitive tasks.

Watch this video: What is project management? by the Association for Project Management [2:17] below. The transcript is available on YouTube.



When a group of projects are arranged towards achieving a certain goal this is said to be a program. A program is a collection of smaller projects that deliver or achieve a certain higher goal. The simplest example for a program is an educational degree program in a school or college, where multiple courses correspond to the projects. The program will be completed when all projects (courses) are completed and the certificate/degree is awarded.


In contrast to projects, operations are ongoing and repetitive. They involve work that is continuous without an ending date and with the same processes repeated to produce the same results. The purpose of operations is to keep the organization functioning, while the purpose of a project is to meet its goals and objectives. Therefore, operations are ongoing while projects are unique and temporary.

A project is completed when its goals and objectives are accomplished. It is these goals that drive the project, and all the planning and implementation efforts undertaken to achieve them. Sometimes projects end when it is determined that the goals and objectives cannot be accomplished or when the product or service of the project is no longer needed and the project is cancelled.

Definition of a Project

There are many written definitions of a project. All of them contain the key elements described above. However, for those looking for a formal definition of a project, the Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. The temporary nature of projects indicates a definite beginning and end. The end is reached when the project’s objectives have been achieved or when the project is terminated because its objectives will not or cannot be met, or when the need for the project no longer exists.

The term “project” is used several ways in popular culture, from describing everyday tasks (planting a garden, hanging a picture, running errands) to large scale enterprises (building a house, constructing a new highway, purchasing an HRIS). However, when professional HR project managers talk about projects, they use a narrower definition. Let’s start out with the six defining characteristics of a project. Just about every book, organization, or standards body in the project management field agrees that a project:

  1. is a temporary endeavour, with a defined start and end.
  2. has a specific objective.
  3. has customers or stakeholders.
  4. has constraints, such as time, cost and scope.
  5. has measures for success.
  6. includes some amount of uncertainty.
  7. has a beginning and an end

Watch the video: What is a Project by Prof C [3:23] for more information on how these six aspects help define what a project is and is not. Transcript is available on YouTube.

Operations vs. Projects

Projects are different from ongoing operations, even though some techniques (such as network diagramming) overlap. Project management addresses temporary endeavours, with a start and end date, while operations management focuses on improving ongoing operations. For example, constructing a new factory is a project, while producing bicycle tires in that factory is an operation. This textbook concentrates on traditional project management techniques. Adaptations related to Agile project management, which is often used for software development, are mentioned along the way, but Agile is not a main topic in this chapter. This will be discussed in chapter 11.


What is a project you have worked on either at school, work, or your own time?  How did you set up your project?

1.2. Project Management (PM) Definition” from Essentials of Project Management by Adam Farag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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Strategic Project Management Copyright © 2022 by Debra Patterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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