No project is an island

A project as “Time-bound intended change

I am attempting to find a way to link projects across a wider (the widest possible) spectrum of application. To include projects from more than just the organisational and commercial parameters we generally have in mind. How often have project discussion found their respective experts at cross-purposes when in open dialogue? It cannot just be me that falls into that trap regularly on LinkedIn.

But then, why stop there? What can we share from wider project thinking? My wife would tell you I was a “project” when we first met – she would also argue I have become others since. My garden overhaul was a project. Fad diets. Training for an event. My career steps. Each piece of coursework at university, they are called projects. We have projects of exploration, research, development, preservation, consolidation, reputation, persuasion. Projects intent on destruction, protection, isolation, and intervention. Malevolent and benevolent, inclusive or divisive, legal or illegal, reclaiming or defending. They can represent an ideology and span generations, be about control of resources, or boundaries, or races for glory or survival. Or they may be much briefer time spans of intended change – even if the change intended is simply halting what others will to be.

I am going to argue that everything we enact can fit within the framework of a project. That all we do as human beings is a project when it is “time-bounded intended change“. My motive is simple. I want to find that common link to all our interventions. And use that to add wider challenge to what it is we fail to see. “No project is an island”, (Mats Engwall 2003), and I believe even the projects we identify with are themselves containing, influencing, competing, and part of, many more.

If you can think of anything that sits beyond these parameters of a project as “time-bound intended change“, I really want to know.

A project. Definitions from wiser folk than me

I offer some of the best definitions that offer a more acknowledged view:

A unique, once-in-a-lifetime task; with a predetermined date of delivery; being subject to one or several performance goals (such as resource usage and quality); consisting of some complex and/or interdependent activities Packendorff (1995 pp320).

APMBoK pp44 provides further project specific definition as “Temporary Structures” or “Temporary Organisations”.

Matthew B Miles (1964) “On Temporary Systems”. In a letter of 1977, Miles reminds us of some key concepts and constructs from his 1964 work. This rejoinder is aimed at Goodman and Goodman who he felt had inadequately represented origins or context of the term. “I content myself with inviting the authors, and other readers, to examine the original discussion” (Miles, 1964), of such “temporary-system features as goal and role redefinition, the consequence of heightened communication for power equalization, and the development of norms … supporting authenticity, inquiry, change, and effortless as a predictable aspect of any time-limited system” (ibid)”.

Engwall (1992) offers a challenge to the isolated and unique considerations presumed in both characteristics and factors of success of temporary structures “this calls for an ontological change; instead of lonely and closed systems, projects have to be conceptualized as contextually-embedded open systems, open in time as well as in ‘space’” (Engwall 1992 pp790).

This is a direct lift from my dissertation of 2020, pp22. The references are well known, and choices were intentionally reflective of acknowledged subject matter experts. The title of this post must also be credited to Engwall 2003.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here: