How TV shows and movies like Transformers, X-Men, Community, Star Trek, The Walking Dead, and Justified all help us answer “What is a project?”

Superman Crowd
Image source: The Boomer Hall of Fame*

“It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Superman!” – Theme opener, Superman

Whether the Space Bridge built by the Decepticons, Cerebro developed by Professor Xavier, or a film that was made by Troy and Abed — a project is a temporary element with a defined start and end date that produces a unique product or service. Often times the word “project” is broadly applied to describe any task, whether recurring or distinct. When used liberally, the term could then be applicable to anything that takes time and effort.

Allow me a moment to get a bit deeper into the specifics of the definition as I see it. Of course there’s always the Project Management Institute’s definition for you to start with.

A project is defined as a temporary task, with associated and related tasks, that has defined start and end dates; and a unique outcome. Things like the US Mail, Cybertron’s need for Energon, or becoming the greatest Pokémon Master do not qualify as projects because neither are they temporary nor is there a defined start and end date for them. The US Mail goes everywhere all the time, provided the government doesn’t shut it down, and it is an ongoing and routine action that is executed repeatedly. Cybertron’s need for Energon may be sated for a time; however, it continually uses energy, and thus the need for Energon is an ongoing need. Becoming a Pokémon master, while it does have a certain flow and process in order to be achieved, is not a project since the start and end dates are not defined.

DS9 Promenade
Image source: Memory Alpha

Remember when the Federation had to bring Deep Space Nine up to code after the Cardassians trashed it? That was a project. There was a unique product that was a result of the efforts: a fully functional space station that had a habitable area, botanical garden, shopping promenade, shuttle bays, docking ports, and unforgettable defensive systems.

Walking Dead Prison
Image source: Facebook. Copyright to the respective owner.

Perhaps if you have read or watched The Walking Dead and you recall when Rick and the bunch worked to make the prison a fully functioning location which included habitable areas, garden, armory, and defensible position.

Both of these are examples of large scale projects which had multiple facets, but each resulted in the unique product of a defendable base of operations. They only had to do it once and from the completion of that project they were better off; for the most part.

Justified Boyd Crowder
Image source: Justified Wiki**

On Justified, in the Blue-Grass state of Kentucky, Boyd Crowder works to establish a connection to Mexico in order to set himself as the supplier of heroin to his piece of the state. All of the actions that Boyd takes are to establish the service for his own networks. The process of setting up of a heroin pipeline takes at most a 10 episode arc — but in terms of time in the Justified timeline it’s a project that lasts Boyd nearly several weeks. The pipleline of heroin from Mexico to Kentucky would be the unique output of the project and Boyd which he could in turn leverage for a profit. Since the timeline for the project is open-ended but has a defined output this is still a project.

Whether your project is going to be started and finished in 12 days or 12 months, having the defined start and end dates is crucial to acknowledging a project’s success and/or failure. Sometimes, if it wasn’\’t for the last minute then nothing would get done. As for having a unique product or service outcome, make sure that your project is going to deliver some value from which you can build up. Projects can help you make improvements to your business, kingdom, evil empire, and of course yourself.

* I want to thank The Boomer Hall of Fame for collecting a remarkable set of materials concerning what is basically Geek Culture as early as 1930s. The posts have become shorter but nonetheless poignant. Check it out!

** Great community out there keeping this material up to date! Go check it out!

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