From time to time I put my mind to the characterisation of project management. What, I ask myself, is it? This usually occurs when I consider approaches to training staff to think about projects, rather than simply learn a few techniques absent a theoretical structure that will orient them in the practice.
Is a project a choice reduction machine, a transformation machine, or as Koskela puts it a means of managing flow. Flow I like, as long as the flow includes information, its creation and management.
My starting point is the people who form the project: at the start they constitute a 'community of intent'. What's special about that, you ask. The special thing is that it is free agents coming together form different perspectives to contribute to an outcome. All management is about this, I suppose, but in project land, the community is for action that will take an organisation from a dissonant relationship with its business environment to one in equilibrium. The dissonance might be a problem, a deficiency or an opportunity. The dissonance provides impetus for action by bringing the business to a a more stable relationship to its environment that produces the sought benefits.
Equilibrium doesn't mean smooth sailing, but that a point of dissonance has been dealt with: a new product, capability or investment available that deals with an opportunity or deficiency in the previous relationship with the environment.
Not yet a theory, of course, but that's how I think about it. Without a theory we have merely a collection of techniques with no home. We need the home.
BTW, list of Koskela's papers.