What’s the difference between a project and a process? I have a very broad view of “project management” but there is a danger of broadening the definition too far. If the definition is broadened too far, almost anything could be “project management” and that would make it meaningless.
For example: Is an effort to provide ongoing maintenance and enhancements for a product a “process” or a “project”? To eliminate potential confusion, we need clearly-defined and objective criteria for drawing a line between the two. What is a “process”, and what is a “project”.
“Process” versus “Project”
I’ve summarized some distinctions between a “process” and a “project” below:
A “process” has an objective that is typically defined around the ongoing operation of the process.
For example, “provide ongoing maintenance for GM vehicles”
A “project” has an objective or outcome to be accomplished and the project ends when that objective is accomplished. That objective might be broadly-defined and might change or be further elaborated as the project is in progress.
For example, “find a replacement ignition switch that will solve the problem with GM vehicles”.
A “process” is generally ongoing and doesn’t normally have an end.
A “project” has a beginning and an end (although the beginning and end may not be well-defined when the project starts and the end might be a long time in the future).
A “process” is a repetitive sequence of tasks and the tasks are known at the outset since it is repetitive.
The sequence of tasks in a “project” is not normally repetitive and may not be known at the outset of the project.
“Process Management” versus “Project Management”
Here’s a similar distinction between “process management” and “project management”:
The focus of Process management is on managing a process such as a product manufacturing process. Such a process might be used across a variety of projects. Process management might involve some project management to define and improve the process.
The focus of Project management is on managing a project typically using some process in achieving some kind of desired end result.
Every project follows some kind of process even though it may not be formally defined.
The emphasis of Process management is on increasing “repeatability” of the tasks, improving efficiency (decreasing time needed, reducing cost), and improving quality of the work product produced by the process (including consistency in quality).
The emphasis of Project management is on achieving the end result that the project is intended to accomplish. Higher efficiency is harder to achieve since it might require custom tools and methods that can only be developed if the project was turned into a repetitive process.
In simple, terms:
The goal of “Process Management” is to manage existing business processes as efficiently and effectively as possible. An example would be managing a process associated with the current way the business operates.
The goal of “Project management” is on managing some kind of change in the way a business operates to make the overall business operate more effectively. An example would be introducing a new product, implementing new processes, etc.
What is the next generation of project management? What is the impact of Agile on the future of project management?
Does it mean that project managers who are heavily trained in a traditional plan-driven approach to project management will become obsolete over some period of time?
What do project managers need to do to adjust their career direction to adapt to the future direction of project management?
I believe that the project management profession is at a major turning point that requires broadening our view of what “project management” is and reshaping the direction of the project management profession for the future to fully embrace and integrate both Agile and traditional plan-driven project management as complementary approaches within an overall project management portfolio.
Reinventing Project Management
What sort of image comes to your mind when you think of the words “project management”?
Does it have any relationship to Agile? My guess is that many people have a very well-ingrained image of what “project management” is and many people wouldn’t associate “project management” with Agile at all.
In fact, many people still see those two disciplines as polar opposites.
To see things differently, we have to broaden our thinking about what “project management” is and get past many of the well-established stereotypes of what “project management” is.
Long-lasting companies have learned to “reinvent” themselves from time-to-time to keep up with changes in technology and the business environment they operate in. Here’s an excerpt from Harvard Business Review on that topic:
“Sooner or later, all businesses, even the most successful, run out of room to grow. Faced with this unpleasant reality, they are compelled to reinvent themselves periodically. The ability to pull off this difficult feat—to jump from the maturity stage of one business to the growth stage of the next—is what separates high performers from those whose time at the top is all too brief.”
“The potential consequences are dire for any organization that fails to reinvent itself in time. As Matthew S. Olson and Derek van Bever demonstrate in their book Stall Points, once a company runs up against a major stall in its growth, it has less than a 10% chance of ever fully recovering. Those odds are certainly daunting, and they do much to explain why two-thirds of stalled companies are later acquired, taken private, or forced into bankruptcy.”
“A successful company is like a great white shark. In its prime, it chews up the competition, but if it dares to sit still for too long, it dies. Some of the world’s most profitable and enduring companies have achieved their long track record of success by constantly reinventing themselves.”
“Cell phone maker Nokia started off selling rubber boots. The oil giant Shell used to import and sell actual shells. But these companies and the eight others on our list adapted with the times, evolving their product lines and business strategies to stay one step ahead of their customers’ needs. In business, it’s better to be a chameleon than a great white.”
Check out the link above for some great examples of companies that have done that successfully. As the article points out, the trick is recognizing that you are at a “stall point” and taking action before you have stalled for very long and that can be a difficult thing to do.
Project Management History
To understand the transformation that is going on, its useful to look at the history of project management and how we got to where we are today:
Project Management could probably be considered to be one of the world’s oldest professions. Think of the Egyptian pyramids and the Great Wall of China.
The level of “project management” at that time may have been very crude and they probably didn’t call it “project management” at all but large efforts like that don’t just happen without some kind of planning and organization behind them.
In the US, the development of the Transcontinental Railway in the late 1800’s is another example of a very large effort that had to have some kind of planning and organization behind it.
Scientific Management Approach
Around the turn of the century, along came Frederick Taylor and his co-worker, Henry Gantt. Frederick Taylor started developing new theories on how to organize workers and Henry Gantt created his famous Gantt Charts to describe the order of operations in work.
World War II and the 50’s and 60’s
World War II resulted in the Manhattan project which was another huge effort and the 1950’s and 1960’s had more large scale efforts such as the Polaris missile program and the Apollo program to put a man on the moon. PERT and CPM were invented and then in 1969, PMI was founded.
The Next Generation of Project Management
The general approach for doing project management hasn’t changed significantly since that time and the big question is “What’s next?” and also “Why Now?”
Has the project management profession reached its peak or is there yet another major phase of growth that is just beginning to take place? I believe it is the latter.
Here’s why I believe it there is some level of urgency to rethink the way we think about “project management” – the diagram below shows how the adoption rate of new technologies has changed over the last century.
“Source: Mulbrandon, Catherine, Visualizing Economics – Adoption of New Technology Since 1900, http://visualizingeconomics.com/blog/2008/02/18/adoption-of-new-technology-since-1900
This data only goes through 2005, but you can be sure this trend hasn’t slowed down since then. (Think of how quickly smartphones have evolved as an example) This rapid proliferation of new technology calls for a new approach to project management – the traditional, heavily plan-driven approaches of the past can’t keep pace with the speed that technology is changing in many areas.
This dynamic and rapidly changing environment calls for a more adaptive project management approach but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to throw out everything we’ve learned about traditional, plan-driven project management and start over again but it does create some significant challenges for individual project managers and for the project management profession, as a whole.
What’s the Impact on Project Managers?
This “raises the bar” for project managers significantly:
In the past, if you had a PMP certificate, that was as far as you needed to go for many project management roles.
PMI has now created the Agile Certified Professional (ACP) certification and that’s not an easy certification to get, but that’s only the beginning, in my opinion.
I think the PMI-ACP exam is good certification but it doesn’t go far enough. It is really mostly a test of terminology – it doesn’t really test whether you know how to integrate Agile and traditional project management principles and practices in the right proportions to fit a given situation and that’s the real challenge for project managers, in my opinion.
A good Agile Project Manager also needs to be a strong cross-functional leader – he/she cannot be just a coordinator or administrator. That means he/she needs to have some credible knowledge of the functions included in the project.
What Needs to be Done to Address These Challenges?
This is a huge challenge to transform the project management profession and broaden our thinking of what a “project manager” is and it will take some time. However, I believe that the alternative of ignoring these trends and continuing to think of a project manager in the narrow context of someone who only does traditional, plan-driven project management approaches will seriously degrade and undermine the project management profession over time. Here’s what I think needs to be done to address this challenge:
1. Acknowledge the Need to Make a Change
The first step in any twelve step program is to acknowledge that we have a problem – we cannot deny the impact of Agile on the project management profession and think that traditional, plan-driven project management approaches as we know them will go on forever and Agile is just a fad that will go away.
2. Get Past Sterotypes
There are many stereotypes about what traditional project management is and about what Agile is that we need to overcome and change our thinking to see both Agile and traditional project management approaches as complementary to each other rather than competitive.
3. Redefine Project Management
We have to better define and develop the concept of what an “Agile Project Manager” is and better define the role that an “Agile Project Manager” might play. In my view, an “Agile Project Manager” is not someone who only does Agile projects; it is someone who has a deep knowledge of both Agile and traditional plan-driven principles and practices and knows how to blend them together in the right proportions to fit a given situation.
4. Develop Agile Project Management Training
We need to develop training programs and resources to help project managers reach the goal of becoming an “Agile Project Manager”.
Project Managers are a product of the environment that they work in. For example, many project managers take a heavily plan-driven approach to controlling costs and schedules of a project because that’s what their organizations expect of them. To change the behavior of project managers, we change the expectations of what companies expect of project managers and that can require some significant changes in organizational culture.