Productivity expert David Allen says that we don't work on projects; projects are instead the result of what we work on. He urges us to focus on the actions that will eventually lead to completion of the project.
The mental picture which we hold is important. Is a project a series of linear actions? Can it be circled and viewed from a variety of perspectives? Is it a cloud or a box? A river or a rocket launch? Does it resemble a machine with distinct parts or a farmer's field with different stages of growth that must be addressed in a particular order? Is it a voyage into a stormy sea? Or are we conducting an orchestra or a jazz quartet?
And will the same mental picture apply to all projects?
I often feel as if I circle projects in an attempt to determine boundaries and dimensions. That may be due to a fondness for analysis and detachment. Others may plunge into a project and determine its characteristics from the inside. There are days when projects defy orderly approaches. A project, like some science fiction creature, may change before our eyes due to mission creep or events.
You can develop techniques for handling projects - checklists that will reduce the danger of overlooking a key item - and yet there are subtle aspects that require a feeling more than an analysis.
That is part of the circling process.