What is a Project? What makes it different from other work efforts?

All projects are work but not all work.

I feel your pain. You have outgrown spreadsheets and are tired of trying to collaborate via email.
Google was your first stop for finding an automated tool that could help you. Instead of finding a solution, there were pages upon pages of product lists labelled project management software. Each product had a different price and functionality.
Are they all the same? How can you tell which tool is best for you? Understanding the difference between work and projects is key.
This knowledge will allow you to better assess your needs and enable you to evaluate products for the real thing, not what vendors sell them as.
This explanation will be covered in two parts. This article will explain the difference between work and projects, and show you when project management software is better than a work management tool.
Next, we will dive deeper into work management and show you how to choose the best work management solution for you.
Jump to:

What is a project? (And what about everything else?)
Projects are time-bound undertakings that have an end, produce a unique output/deliverable and are executed within agreed-upon constraints (e.g., scope, timelines, budget/resources).
Everything else is work, but it’s not a project. These efforts include:
Even though this isn’t routine work, it should still be managed.
Why is it important that you distinguish between projects and other work activities?
It is important to distinguish between work and projects for the following reasons:
Projects require more PM processes than small, low-effort units of work. This level of oversight and control can lead to unnecessary bottlenecks, long timelines, and strain on key resources.
You could end up paying for features that you don’t need or won’t use if you don’t know how to distinguish between project management and tools for work management.
38% of respondents to our 2019 PM software user survey said that they don’t use Gantt charts functionality (used for project management) within their PM software. This is a significant amount of users who are paying too much for PM software when they could have used a work management tool instead.
Here’s where it gets tricky: For lack of a better word, the term “project” is liberally applied to most work efforts, whether it’s a high-risk/high-return strategic business initiative or a low-key collaborative effort concurrent to day-to-day responsibilities.
This is problematic for several reasons:

What is the difference between project management and work management software?
When managing a project, you should use true PM software. This is because it can manage and control scope, budget, timeline, and resource constraints. These constraints must be monitored and reported to stakeholders. If the tool you are using is not capable of doing so, it will be difficult to do so accurately.
If you don’t need to monitor the three constraints, you’re not managing a project. You can use any type work management software that suits your needs, from personal to-do lists to shared task management tools to collaboration software.
These are three ways to distinguish between project management tools and work management tools.
It is important to remember that PM and work management tools often overlap in functionality. But if it doesn’t offer project planning–specifically around budget and resource management–then it’s not a formal PM solution and would fall into the work management category instead.


How can I find the right tools to meet my needs?
First, keep in mind that the project is not a simple one.