What is a Project? A Lecture on Project Planning Basics

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Below are my personal lecture notes from a Microsoft Project Level 1 class. You can download the accompanying PowerPoint presentation in Bright Hub’s Project Management Media Gallery by clicking here.

What is a Project?

  • A project is a temporary organization of related tasks set up to deliver one or more products.
  • Each project has a set start date and end date.
  • The primary objective of any project is to ensure product delivery on time, to cost and to the customer’s expected quality.

Why Do Projects Succeed?

  • Projects succeed simply through planning and good regular communication.
  • A project should, and will, achieve a tangible result.

What Can be Done to Start a Project?

The first thing to have is a good set of requirements and specifications. Without these, any project is doomed to overrun in terms of both cost and time. Further, it may not achieve the desired benefits.

Next, a Project Manager must be assigned. A Project Manager is responsible for ensuring that a project is completed on time, within budget and at an agreed upon level of quality.

Once a Project Manager has been assigned, you can then begin to assemble your project team, or “Resources.” These are the people and equipment that will be needed to complete the project deliverables. An essential part of a project is planning. Within a project plan, milestones or “markers”, should be established to help keep the project on track. Milestones are dates throughout the project that need to be met in order for the project to complete within the required time frame and budget.

What Can be Done Once Project Work Has Begun?

Just because the project has started doesn’t mean the role of the Project Manager is complete. While it’s true you have other personnel and equipment completing required tasks, it’s still the Project Manager’s job to track the project through to it’s completion and beyond by making sure deadlines are met. The project plan you create for each project also serves a reference for future project and can give you an accurate snapshot of not only the time frame of a particular project but also the associated costs.


If you do not start a project with the correct goal or goals, it is not likely you will accomplish the goal. Establishing a project goal is a team activity because it’s important that your team members understand what everyone is working towards.

At the end of the project Initiation phase, you should have a document with a list of goals and a short statement, like a mission statement, providing a detailed overall goal. Within this statement, you should include a definition of success.

To begin this process, start with a good old-fashioned brainstorming session. This is not a list of the things that need to happen to accomplish your goal, but rather a list of end-results. For example, “Digitizing two hours of video” is a task, but “offer streaming videos of lectures to my class” is a goal.


Now you’re ready to create the specific list of things that need to happen in order for your goal or goals to be met. Unlike goals, tasks are identifiable steps that can be sequenced on a timeline or calendar and assigned to specific people.

Tasks should be clear and simply stated. If a task cannot be described in a sentence or two, you might want to break it up into two or more smaller tasks.

  • Tasks should be confined to a known time frame.
  • Tasks should include only work-related aspects.
  • Tasks should be associated with a specific person or group.
  • Tasks should have a single point of sign-off.

Once you have your list of tasks, you can begin to assemble then in a workable order working to create Milestones within the tasks, or measurable points of completion. In Project Management terms, this order is defined as your WBS, or Work Breakdown Structure.


Once the project Initiation and Planning phases have been completed, you can move to the Implementation phase. This is where Microsoft Project comes in.

Microsoft Project can help you, as the project manager, track your tasks before, during and after. It can also help you manage your resources to ensure no one is overallocated or working over-time. It can help you track company holidays and personal time off through the use of calendars. And, it can track all of your cost data from equipment rental to personnel salary.


Once the project is complete, Microsoft Project can create detailed summary report information including overall costs and resource work. This type of detailed information lays the groundwork for future projects.

Project Management Glossary

For a complete list of common project management terms and definitions, check out our Project Management Glossary.