How is a forensic investigation different from a project?

The main difference? You know where you’re going when you work on a project whereas the end result of a forensic investigation is a mystery. Particularly if you follow-the-evidence.

A project is all the work you do one time. Whether it’s designing a bridge, building a garden, or creating a web page, every project produces an outcome and every project has a beginning and an end. (Ref. 1)

It’s a one-time job that has a definite starting point, end point, a clearly defined scope of work, a budget, and is multi-task in nature. (Ref. 2)

The Project Management Institute puts it still another way, “A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service”. (Ref. 3)

For example, engineers apply science and mathematics in the use of materials to design and construct a project useful to people. Materials like steel, concrete, wood, plastic, water, soil and rock for a bridge.

When something goes wrong during the project or afterwards engineers carry out a forensic investigation to determine the cause. This would include personal injury accidents. (Ref. 4)

Projects and forensic investigations both involve carrying out a number of tasks. However, where the tasks forming a project are well known at the start, those for a for a forensic investigation are only approximately known.

These tasks are identified accurately in a “Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)” for a project. A WBS is a simple list of tasks. A similar list can be prepared for a forensic investigation but is approximate particularly for a difficult investigation.

Similar issues exist when estimating costs. They are (very) approximately known at the start of a project, (a little) better known in the middle and (accurately) accurately known at the end. Factor in the parenthetic expressions for a forensic investigation.

I thought to comment on these similarities and differences when I realized a WBS would be useful in forensic investigation. Then it struck me I must be careful comparing a project to a forensic investigation lest the latter take on a commercial ring. There’s nothing commercial about determining the cause of a failure or accident to facilitate dispute resolution even when it involves a commercial building.


  1. Verzuh, Eric, The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management, Wiley and Sons 1999
  2. Lewis, James P., Project Planning, Scheduling & Control, 3rd edition McGraw Hill 2001
  3. Meredith, Jack R. and Mantel, Jr., Samuel J., Project Management, a Managerial Approach 4th edition Wiley and Sons 2000
  4. What is forensic engineering? Posted September 28, 2021 and November 20, 2012

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, April 30, 2022.   

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