Defining the Term Project in Development Context

By Anthony M. Wanjohi:

This section provides an overview of the definition of the term project in development context. The section highlights various definitions of development project although there is no standard definition as such.

What is a Project?

A project is any series of activities which has a specific objective to be completed within certain specifications; has defined start and end dates; and consumes resources such as finance, personnel and equipment (Kerzner (1992). Michael  and Burton (1992) elaborate by stating that ongoing work does not constitute a project, yet reorganizing the manner in which the work is done could be considered a project. Thus, each project is unique since it is carried out only once, its implementation cannot be rehearsed, and it is temporary in duration. Added to this, a project originates because “something not done before must be done” and is therefore characterized by the production of a unique product (Rosenau, 1992).

Atkins and Milne (1995) distinguish between conventional and development projects. Development projects extend the project activities, output and time frame beyond the scope of a conventional project by:

  • Encouraging and assisting the beneficiary community to actively participate in the project and to take ownership, in so far as possible, of the asset created,
  • Maximising the short, medium and long-term project benefits to alleviate poverty in a sustainable and replicable manner,
  • Using the project as a vehicle for training and building the capacity of the local community,
  • Enhancing employment opportunities through the use of labour-intensive technologies and
  • Minimising negative environmental impact and thereby enhancing sustainability.

Baum and Tolbert (1985) provided a World Bank perspective and defined a development project as a discrete package of investments and institutional actions designed to achieve a specific development objective within a designated timeframe. Similarly, Shaghil and Mushtaque (1993) regarded a development project as a technically predetermined set of interrelated activities involving the most effective use of resources to achieve development objectives and provide goods and services to the benefit of targeted communities.

The RDP [Reconstruction and Development programme] (1994) made provisions for development projects, which conform to the following criteria:

  • High impact on communities served,
  • Economic and political viability and sustainability,
  • Job creation,
  • Provision of basic needs,
  • Training and capacity development,
  • Some existing capacity to start implementation and
  • Affirmative action with respect to race and gender.


We can thus deduce that a project is a set of activities with defined start and end dates, specific objectives to be achieved with certain constraints, and limited resources to be utilized.  Development project also exhibits these characteristics although the scope thereof is broader than conventional projects in various respects. Development project is intended to fulfill specific objectives; this implies that projects are designed with predetermined end results.  Development project constitutes activities which are designed with the aim of satisfying the objectives; has a specific starting point and a specific ending point; and involves resources such as human, financial and physical resources.

About the Author

Wanjohi, AM is the founder and Director of Projects and Research at KENPRO. He is a Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning (MERL) specialist.

Suggested Citation

Wanjohi, A.M. (2020). Project Planning and Management Handbook. Nairobi: Kenpro Publications


Atkins, H., & Milne, C. (1995). Role of consultants in development projects. Centre for Policy Analysis, Development Bank of Southern Africa.

Baum, W., & Tolbert, S. (1985). Investing in development: Lessons of World Bank experience. Finance and Development22(4), 25.

Shaghil, M., & Mushtaque, M. (1993). Project, Planning and Management. Printwell.

Michael, N., & Burton, C. (1992). Basic Project Management: How to Make it Work in Your Organisation. Singapore Institute of Management.

Rosenau, P. V. (2000). The strengths and weaknesses of public-private policy partnerships (Vol. 94, pp. 217-242). MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. The Politics of Self-Governance.