Confusion abounds in what are the differences and similarities between process management and project management. There is a lot of literature in project management circles that purports that we should be creating organizations that are led by projects and project management and forming Project Management Environments to support these. But there are also circles that purport that all work is a process and that we should be creating organizations that are led by process management and, in turn, form Quality Management Environments for support.

Before suggesting a settlement to this argument, let’s discuss some definitions.

Definition of a Project:

The Project Management Institute’s Body of Knowledge defines a Project as, “A temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.” Temporary means that every project has a definite beginning and a definite end date. Unique means that the product or service is different in some distinguishing way from similar products or services. By examining this definition we understand that projects are:

  • Time-bound and have a customer.
  • Have clear beginning and end states. These can be as short as half a day or be as long as a number of years. Longer projects are often broken down into phases or stages. Each one becoming a project onto itself.
  • Follow a specific cycle of Initiation, Definition, Planning, Execution and Close

Definition of a Process:

By examining this definition we understand that processes are:

  • On-going with no clearly defined beginning and end states.
  • Customer driven.
  • Repeatable.

All projects are managed. All processes should be continuously analyzed for improvement or reengineering.

Project Management Defined:

Project Management is the application of knowledge and expertise to the development of Project Scope and a Project Plan, which meets or exceeds stakeholder requirements.

Process Improvement Defined:

Process Improvement is the examination of a business process in order to better meet customer & quality requirements.

Business Process Reengineering Defined:

Business Process Reengineering is the fundamental re-thinking and re-designing of a business process in order to exceed customer and quality requirements.

By examining the definition for project management it can be determined that the management of a project is a process. The management of a project follows a consistent series of steps that ensures it is successfully managed and meets the project’s customer requirements. However, the process is not subject to an improvement process. If the project management methodology (or process) is followed, it is assumed that the project will successfully meet its defined deliverables.

By examining the definition for business process improvement and business process reengineering, you can see that all work is a process and can be improved or reengineered in order to meet the continuously changing needs of the customers (internal or external) for whom the process has been designed.

Through our work in Quality Management and Project Management we have found that all work is a process. It can be flowcharted, measured and improved. Organizations that are quality driven will map all of their work processes. It then becomes easy to determine who does what and when they have to do it, in order to ensure customer requirements are met. These flowcharts can replace job descriptions. All employees can examine the flowcharts and immediately determine where their job fits into the work to be done. As well, they can easily see where their work comes from and when they’re finished, where their part of the process then goes.

Now, back to our earlier position. Project Management Circles suggest that Project Management Offices (PMOs) should be put in place to oversee projects, ensuring they are properly resourced and prioritized. PMOs also help to lead the way towards the creation of a Project Management Environment within the organization.

More current approaches and albeit, there are few examples so far as it is very leading edge in it’s thinking, is to merge process management with project management and create a Strategic Change Management Office. It would oversee all process management (process improvement, reengineering, benchmarking studies, ISO/QS 9000, Six Sigma Initiatives, etc.) with project management. Because individuals are assigned to teams and these teams are either involved in some form of process management and/or project management, this Change Management Office will oversee the link of these to the organization’s strategic direction (established through the process of Strategic Planning) and resourcing of these.

In reviewing the definitions and literature, it becomes apparent that the correct thinking is that all work is a process and that projects fit into the framework of process management. Dr. Edwards Deming, Quality Management theorist, consultant and author once said, “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing”.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications. For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at mstanleigh@bia.ca