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What is a Project Definition?

Smartpedia: The project definition describes both the process for initiating a project and the result of this process.

Project Definition – the process and outcome for defining a project

The project definition forms the basis of a project. On the one hand, it describes the process of initialisation and thus the definition of the general conditions of a project, and on the other hand, it describes the result of this process. ​In practice, both the process and the results of the project definition vary from company to company. Many companies use defined workflows to set up projects. They

  • work with Project Management Offices, which are responsible for the compilation of the project portfolio and thus both for the project definition and for the framework conditions of the projects.
  • use project proposals, which they classify and evaluate according to internal criteria.
  • define business cases and determine the motivation and various options for carrying out the project. They record the benefits as well as negative effects and possible risks. In addition, they determine the time frame, the costs and prepare an investment calculation.
  • prepare specifications for the structured and well-founded description of requirements and expected performance.
  • design project markets in which possible projects with their vision are presented by a representative. The goal is to find team members for a project. Project markets are a form of agile organisations.


Project Definition - the process and outcome for defining a project

The time of the Project Definition

There are different interpretations of when the project definition process takes place and where it should be classified:

  • The British project management method PRINCE2 considers the project definition to be a section within the project description, which is created during the project initialisation.
  • The PMBOK Guide also prescribes the project definition – more precisely: the process “Develop Project Charter” – in the “Initiation”.
  • According to DIN 69901-2:2009-01 “Project Management – Project Management Systems – Part 2: Processes, Process Model”, the project definition takes place after initialisation and before project planning.
  • And IPMA’s competence standard – the ICB – uses the term “project design” instead of “project definition” and addresses the rough draft of the project architecture.

The result of the Project Definition

And what is the result of the project definition? In the figurative sense, it is the answers to typical questions: What, Why, When, Who, How, etc. For example:

  • What are the framework conditions of the project? What is the background, which system context is taken into account and which goals are pursued?
  • What is the priority of the project, why and when is it carried out?
  • What benefits are expected, what advantages and risks are there?
  • Who are the stakeholders, what interests and opinions do they have and how is continuous communication with them carried out?
  • What approach, process and tools are used?
  • Who works with which roles and rights?

In some publications, the result of the project definition is declared as the delivery of various binding documents. These are, for example, the project application, the project order, the project description with the project goal, the determination of the project organisation, initial project and resource plans or the product description.



In project management practice, it happens again and again that employees cannot exactly answer the question about the number of projects in which they are currently working in parallel. This is an indicator that the project definition process does not work ideally.

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