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What is a Project? The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need

What is a Project? The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need

12 minutes

July 13, 2022

What is a Project? Everything You Need To Know

If we asked you to explain what a project is, it would be pretty easy, right? Simply put, it’s a series of tasks that work toward achieving a goal.

While this is accurate, there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Projects can be pretty complex, and they come in all shapes and sizes.

To fully understand what a project is, you need to know the ins and outs of how they work, the different formats they come in, and how to use them effectively.

To provide some clarity, we’ve created this simple guide to projects. By the end, you’ll have a much deeper understanding of what a project is, the different project structures, and the importance of project management.

So let’s kick things off with a project definition.

What is a Project in Project Management?

In project management, a project is a set of tasks and actions that must be completed to reach a certain goal. Although every project is different, there are some key features that every project has:

Graphic outlining the four key features of a project

In most cases, a project manager will outline the project goals and expectations before delegating tasks to the project team. It’s then up to the team to execute their assigned tasks to deliver the project on time.

The project manager oversees this process, ensuring tasks are delivered on time and within budget.

Projects can range from simple and straightforward to complex and elaborate. Depending on the size of the company, they can be managed by a single project manager or multiple project leads.

But no matter how simple or complex, every project goes through the same five phases of the project lifecycle:

  • Initiation: This phase outlines your vision for the project and what you hope to achieve. You’ll use this information to get approval and feedback from key stakeholders. It also involves creating the project charter.
  • Planning process: After initiation, you can start to plan your project infrastructure. This often includes a project management plan, communication and risk management plans, a work breakdown structure (WBS), and more.
  • Executing: Time to put the project plan into action during the execution phase. The budget is allocated, the deliverables are set, and you’re ready to kick off the project.
  • Monitoring and controlling: As work is being completed, this phase makes sure tasks are running as they should. And if things aren’t going to plan, you can put things right.
  • Closing: The final phase of the project wraps things up. It can include archiving documents, reviewing project success and failures, and disbanding the project team.

There are different types of project frameworks that businesses can use to achieve their goals. We’ll talk about this in more detail later.

What’s Included in a Project?

It’s hard to say for definite what’s included in a project because every project is different. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll come across two identical projects.

Having said that, there are some key components that most projects will have:

  • Timelines: As we already know, every project has a start and end date. This means every project has a timeline. The structure of the timeline can vary, but it’ll always be there.
  • Goals and objectives: Every project has goals and objectives. Goals are used to provide overall direction for the project, while project objectives outline specific actions that help you reach the goal.

Table outlining the key differences between goals and objectives

  • Milestones: A lot of projects have milestones to hit along the way to completion. This helps project managers track progress and keeps team members motivated and accountable.
  • Tasks: Project activities and items need to be completed to move the project along. These are often referred to as tasks or actions.
  • Resources: Project resources are the people, budgets, and material goods needed to complete the project. It’s safe to say that every project needs resources. Without them, you’d have a hard time getting anything done.
  • Stakeholders: Every project has stakeholders. From the team members working on the project to the external stakeholders, there will always be people who are interested in the success of the project.

The Role of Project Management in Project Success

Truth be told, it’s hard to deliver a successful project without any project management skills.


Because project management is the process of planning and managing projects. Without it, you’ll struggle to manage the project timeline efficiently. And it’ll be tricky to keep up with project progress.

See project status at a glance

But this isn’t the only reason why project management plays an important role in project success.

Let’s take a look at some of the other benefits in more detail.

  • Effective planning and management: When done well, project management provides structure, organization, and effective project planning — all of which are pretty important to the success of a project. If you lack structure and organization, completing your project on time could be a struggle.
  • Outline specific deliverables and measurements: Project management helps team leaders focus on the outcomes and deliverables of the project. You’ll create specific measurements to track progress, making sure you’re able to reach your end goal and hit all the milestones along the way. And having measurements in place also helps review the success and failures of the project on completion.
  • Clarity on tasks and actions for everyone involved in the project: When a project is well organized, everyone involved knows what’s going on — especially if the project is mapped out in a work management platform. They know their role in the project, what tasks they have to complete, and when their work is due.

So, yes. Project management plays a vital part in project success. It helps teams keep their project organized, monitor progress, and deliver successful projects on time.

If you’re planning an upcoming project, familiarize yourself with some project management best practices before you get stuck in.

Methodologies vs. Frameworks: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to project management, there are different methods and approaches you can use to structure and manage your projects. These are called project methodologies and project frameworks.

Although the two are completely different, they’re often used interchangeably. So let’s start by clarifying what each term means:

Table showing the difference between project methodologies and frameworks

Now we’ve cleared that up, let’s take a look at some of the most well-known project methodologies.

Popular Project Management Methodologies: Agile and Waterfall

The most commonly-used project methodologies tend to be Agile and Waterfall.

Visual of the Waterfall and Agile project methodologies

Agile is an iterative methodology. It involves completing work in short cycles known as sprints. Think of it as completing lots of mini-projects to reach one overall goal.

It’s best used when the project requirements aren’t set in stone or for a project that’s likely to change as it progresses.

In contrast to Agile, Waterfall is a linear methodology.

Tasks and deadlines are outlined before the project begins, which can be helpful for projects with complex dependencies. The waterfall method is often the choice for projects that have concrete deadlines and well-defined deliverables.

What are the Common Project Management Frameworks?

There are a lot of project frameworks out there to choose from, so how do you know which is right for your project?

It’s hard for us to say exactly which framework is right for your project. It all depends on the type of project you're running, the scale of it, and the industry you’re working in. Ultimately, it’s up to you to find the right framework for your project.

To give you a solid starting point, we’ve outlined some of the most common project management frameworks:

Table outlining some of the most common project management

You can find out more about these frameworks (as well as a few others) in our simple guide to project management frameworks.

Is Project Management Software Crucial for Project Success?

Project management software isn’t crucial, but it’s certainly beneficial.

It keeps everything in one location and can be accessed from anywhere, which is ideal for remote teams. Let’s look at these benefits in more detail.

All Project Information in One Location

With project management software, all project details are in one location. From the initial project plan to all the tasks and activities — everything is saved in a single platform.

It also makes the entire project management process more efficient.

Think about it. There’s no need to flick back and forth between various platforms because everything’s in one place. This makes it easier for project managers to create a project schedule and plan all of the work.

Example of tasks in SmartSuite's platform, showing title, due date, level of importance, assignee, and current status

Simply put, using project management software can make project management more efficient.

Of course, it depends on the software you’re using and how you’re using it (more on this later). But when you’ve got the right platform in place, and you’re using it efficiently, you’ll find managing projects much easier.

Access Project Information From Anywhere

If you’re using cloud-based project management software, you can view, change, and share your information from anywhere.

As you can imagine, this is ideal for remote teams.

Whether they’re working from home or on the road, everyone can access project information from anywhere.

Take a look at SmartSuite as an example.

With our work management platform, remote teams can easily access and share project information — no matter where they are. They can share files, images, updates, and feedback.

They can even access project information on mobile devices, which is pretty handy if they’re traveling.

Team member using SmartSuite on mobile

All of these features help remote teams stay productive and collaborative. Project managers can coordinate work across the entire team, and team members can use the software to keep themselves up to speed on what they need to do.

Track Projects in Real-Time

Project management software allows project managers to track project progress in real-time.

As a result, everyone can instantly see the current version of a project. They can see who’s completed certain tasks, who’s working on what tasks, and how the project is progressing. There’s no need to refresh, it’s always up-to-date as soon as they open the project.

And with a platform like SmartSuite, you can even see changes as they’re being made.

Any information that’s being updated will be highlighted with a distinctive color. The name of who’s updating the project will pop up as well, allowing you to plan your next steps as you complete work.

Image of SmartSuite's real-time updates

Having access to real-time information also means it’s easy to spot when things are falling behind. You can be proactive about addressing issues and put things right before it’s too late.

Essential Features of Project Management Software

If you’re thinking about using project management software, you must choose the right platform. If you don’t, the efficiency and productivity of your projects can suffer.

And when it comes to finding the project management software, we do have a key piece of advice:

We’d suggest aiming for work management software instead of a dedicated project management platform.


For one main reason.

Project management software focuses solely on managing projects.

But a work management platform (like SmartSuite) covers all areas of your business, including project management. It covers every business process from project management and business operations to HR and sales and CRM.

This means you can manage all aspects of your workflow on a single platform. It streamlines your entire business, making the day-to-day running of your operations much more efficient.

Image of two colleagues using SmartSuite for work management

Whether you decide to take our advice or you opt for a project management tool, here are some of the key features to look out for:


Teams need to be able to collaborate on projects effectively. If they can’t, productivity can take a hit, and your projects might not get delivered on time. Which won’t go down well with your stakeholders.

So keep an eye out for what collaborative features the platform offers. Here are a few examples:

  • The ability to have conversations across departments.
  • Being able to add comments to tasks (and being able to tag other users in comments, too).
  • Sending notifications to team members when tasks are changed or completed.

Users adding comments to tasks and tagging other users

With these features in place, you can rest assured that your project team will be able to work together effectively.


Automation helps you save time performing repetitive and mundane tasks.

If you’re not familiar with automation, it’s a pretty simple concept. Using predetermined triggers and actions, you can tell your software to do certain tasks automatically. In doing so, you can streamline your project from start to finish.

Let’s use an example.

Imagine that you create an automation to assign new tasks to the relevant user when previous tasks are complete. You don’t have to worry about manually moving things along as the automation will do it for you.

Example of an automation from SmartSuite

So if you want to create an efficient and streamlined project, keep an eye out for automation features. With automation in place, your projects will move along quicker, and you’ll have more time to focus on other areas of your project.


A customizable platform is pretty important.


Because it gives you the flexibility to create project plans that suit your unique needs. If you’re not able to tweak and amend the software, you could end up creating a project that’s not as efficient as it could be.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of the customizable features you should look out for:

  • Project views: A variety of project views allows team members to choose the best way to visualize the project. For example, the project manager might prefer a timeline view (which is similar to a Gantt chart), whereas the sales team might like the Kanban view.
  • Templates: Ideally, the platform you choose will have a variety of project templates for you to choose from. But when you start to use these templates, you might want to change them slightly. So think about what customizations you can do within the existing templates.
  • Project fields: Chopping and changing project fields allows you to view all the key project information on one screen. This is pretty handy as it allows you to choose the most important information and display it for the whole project team.

Example of some of the project fields available in SmartSuite

So when you’re looking for the perfect platform, make sure you take a look at the customizable features. You’ll need these to create projects that are tailored to the needs of your business.

Create Your Next Project With SmartSuite

If you’re thinking about how to create your next project, take a look at SmartSuite. Our intuitive work management platform can help you streamline your workflow and create projects that suit your needs.

Sign up for our free 14-day trial today to see what you think.

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