Series on Categorizing Projects and Programs: Project Categories


By Alan Stretton

Sydney, Australia


This is the first of a series of four working/discussion papers on categorizing projects and programs. The context of these papers is overall categorizations as they have appeared in the literature. These currently vary widely, and this series is concerned with exploring possibilities for bringing them closer together. The aim is to stimulate discussion and to encourage feedback, which might hopefully lead to the development of more widely acceptable and accepted categorizations.

This first paper focuses on project categorizations, most of which are found to be a mixture of industrial/ social sectors (Application Sectors) in which projects are undertaken (e.g. aerospace, defence), and types of projects (Project Types) which are undertaken in many, if not most, of these Application Sectors (e.g. IT, R&D). The components of a recent project categorization are re-allocated into these two categories, and presented as a matrix which illustrates the intersections between Project Types and the various Application Sectors in which they are undertaken. The paper goes on to discuss the five key Project Types which have emerged so far.


Many different generalized categorizations of projects in particular have appeared over the past twenty-five years, yet we still do not have a widely accepted categorization. I have had an interest in this since 1989 when I became Chair of PMI’s Standards Committee, during which time we discussed possibilities of developing domain-specific materials in relation to the PMBOK (but did not pursue these at the time). Other early discussions on project categorizations that I came across included Allen 1991, Youker 1992 and Turner 1993.

However, other interests overtook this particular one, and I did not return to this topic until 2009, when I made an initial attempt to categorize programs (Stretton 2009b). I have been further stimulated to return to the subject due to articles by Pells 2011 and Archibald & Prado 2014, whose contributions will be discussed in more detail later.

It should be pointed out that the categorizations of projects in these papers are all concerned with stand-alone projects (rather than component projects of programs). In the context of broad categorizations they are on much the same footing as programs. Hence the frequent use of the descriptor programs/projects later.

Crawford et al 2006 point out that many various systems for categorizing projects have been proposed in the project management literature. Importantly, they make the point that the attributes that are to be categorized in any such system depend on the purposes of those who are making the categorization.


A categorization of projects developed by Archibald & Prado 2014 is shown in Figure 1-1 below (their Table 1, excluding examples they give of each project category and sub-category). Archibald & Prado say that the sub-categories within each major category have similar project life cycle phases and project management processes, which evidently reflects the purpose underlying this categorization.


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Editor’s note: This series of articles on the categorization of projects and programs is by Alan Stretton, PhD (Hon), Life Fellow of AIPM (Australia), a pioneer in the field of professional project management and one of the most widely recognized voices in the practice of program and project management.   Long retired, Alan is still accepting some of the most challenging research and writing assignments; he is a frequent contributor to the PM World Journal.  See his author profile below

About the Author

alan-stretton-bioAlan Stretton, PhD       flag-australia

Faculty Corps, University of Management

and Technology, Arlington, VA (USA)

Life Fellow, AIPM (Australia)

Alan Stretton is one of the pioneers of modern project management.  He is currently a member of the Faculty Corps for the University of Management & Technology (UMT), USA.  In 2006 he retired from a position as Adjunct Professor of Project Management in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Australia, which he joined in 1988 to develop and deliver a Master of Project Management program.   Prior to joining UTS, Mr. Stretton worked in the building and construction industries in Australia, New Zealand and the USA for some 38 years, which included the project management of construction, R&D, introduction of information and control systems, internal management education programs and organizational change projects.  He has degrees in Civil Engineering (BE, Tasmania) and Mathematics (MA, Oxford), and an honorary PhD in strategy, programme and project management (ESC, Lille, France).  Alan was Chairman of the Standards (PMBOK) Committee of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) from late 1989 to early 1992.  He held a similar position with the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM), and was elected a Life Fellow of AIPM in 1996.  He was a member of the Core Working Group in the development of the Australian National Competency Standards for Project Management.  He has published over 140 professional articles and papers.  Alan can be contacted at [email protected].

To see more works by Alan Stretton, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/alan-stretton/.