The Purpose and Methods of Practical Project Categorization


By Russell D. Archibald

Archibald Associates

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico



The objectives of this paper are to discuss the purposes of and need for a project categorization system, to present a recommended approach to the systematic definition of project categorization and classification, and to describe the use of a Purposes/Methods Matrix for Project Categorization to facilitate this systematic definition.

What Drives the Need for a Project Categorization System? The fundamental driver for pursuing the design of an effective project categorizing system is the realization that significant differences exist between the large numbers of projects within:

  • The total spectrum of actual projects in government, business and industry, and
  • The smaller numbers of projects that are being planned and executed within one organizational entity.

Practical experience over many decades in managing the many types (or categories) of projects has led to:

  • Recognition, definition and understanding of the project management/PM principles and practices that are common to all (or at least many) projects in all types of human endeavors and organizations, as documented in the several PM bodies of knowledge and the PM literature in general; and also
  • Recognition (more recently) that the diversity inherent within the many existing and potential projects demands that projects be segregated in several ways for several purposes to continue to improve the ways in which both the buyers (owners) and sellers (contractors or developers) of projects:
    • Strategically and operationally select and prioritize their projects,
    • Operationally plan and execute their projects:
      • individually,
      • within programs, and
      • within project portfolios;
    • Educate and train the managers and specialists involved in projects and PM; and
    • Develop and manage the careers of managers and specialists involved in projects.

Beyond Project Buyers and Sellers: In addition to project buyers and sellers there are at least four other major players in the PM industry worldwide:

  • PM software application developers and vendors (who are often sellers of IT projects),
  • Consultants, educators, and trainers in PM,
  • Universities offering courses, certificates, and degrees in PM, and
  • Professional associations devoted to or interested in PM.

At least some members of each of these groups have also learned that recognizing the differences between various kinds or types of projects can help them continue to improve their offerings to the PM marketplace.

Categorization Versus Classification of Projects: Some dictionaries use these terms interchangeably, but to avoid potential semantic confusion the term categorization is used consistently in this paper to identify a set of items with similar characteristics or properties. An item may be placed in more than one category; in other words, categories are not mutually exclusive. A class is often used more rigorously to denote a set of items that can only be placed within a given class; classes are therefore mutually exclusive, when used in this sense. In this paper it is suggested that projects be classified within categories using specific classification criteria.


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Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English. Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright. This paper was originally presented at the International Project/Program Management Workshop 5, ESC Lille – Lille Graduate School of Management, Lille, France, during August 22 – 26, 2005. The paper was modified by the author in May 28 2007. It is republished here with the author’s permission


About the Author

Russell D. Archibald

Archibald Associates
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico



Now 93, with careers spanning more than 70 years, Russ Archibald has had broad international experiences in piloting and designing aircraft, corporate engineering, operations, and program and project management. His three project management related careers have been Military/Aerospace (19 years), Corporate Engineer & Executive (17 years), and Management Consultant (34 years to date). Russ has consulted to a wide variety of large and small organizations in 16 countries, has trained thousands of people in project management, and has resided in the USA, France, Mexico, Venezuela, Panama Canal Zone, and Peru with Marion, his wife of 70 years. For the past 23 years they have resided in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico.

Russ is founding member number 6 of the Project Management Institute/PMI. After presenting the first PMI paper in 1969 he was President of the PMI Southern California Chapter in 1991-2, founding member of the PMI Mexico City Chapter in 1996, and in 2006 was awarded the PMI Jim O’Brien Lifetime Achievement Award. A PMI Fellow and Certified Project Management Professional, he co-authored with Prof. Dr. Jean-Pierre Debourse the 2011 PMI research report Project Managers as Senior Executives. He was also a founding member in 1970 and is an Honorary Fellow of the Association of Project Management (APM/IPMA-UK).In 1967 he was co-author (with Richard Villoria) of Network Based Management Information Systems (PERT/CPM),Wiley, one of the first books to appear on project management.

Russ is co-author with his grandson Shane Archibald of Leading and Managing Innovation-What Every Executive Team Must Know about Project, Program & Portfolio Management(2nd edition CRC Press 2015, 1st edition 2013 also published in Italian, Portuguese and Spanish); author of Managing High Technology Programs and Projects (3rd edition Wiley 2003, also published in Italian, Russian, and Chinese), has contributed chapters to 15 books edited by others, and presented 88 papers at many PMI, IPMA and other conferences in many countries. He holds BS (U. of Missouri 1948) and MS (U. of Texas 1956) degrees in Mechanical Engineering. Russ was awarded an honorary Ph.D. in Strategy, Program, and Project Management from the Ecole Superieure de Commerce de Lille in Lille, France in 2005. See russarchibald.com. Russ can be contacted at [email protected]

To view other works by Russ Archibald, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/russell-d-archibald/