Business Process Vs Project Management Process

All attendees of “Project Management… by the Numbers” know that every project is a project within another project(!). In other words, every project we manage is a part of another bigger project. So, what is the difference between a business process and a project management process?

Let’s begin the answer with an example…

The CEO of the organization believes the project is to bring a new product to market. Let us call the product the Wireless Internet Waffle Iron (WiWi).

The CEO knows he/she has a process to get the WiWi though his company. This includes identifying the best possible WiWi and all the way to sustaining the WiWi when it is sold to the consumer.

The company has a published plan based on stages for this process (for example; Stage 1 – Ideation, Stage 2 – Assessment, Stage 3 – Feasibility, Stage 4 – Development, Stage 5 – Commercialization, Stage 6 – Sustainment), in order to get the WiWi from one stage to another.

Most often, the process progresses by passing the responsibility of the project from one group to the next along the way of each stage. It does make sense that Engineering manages the conceptual work and Marketing manages the marketing.

Because of this process, the CEO passes the project to his direct reports with confidence that the project can now be managed on time, on budget and that the Wireless Internet Waffle Iron will be exactly as envisioned.

Working with my clients, I have identified this scenario hundreds times over the years and it is easy to recognize this as a “business process” as this is how the business (company) views the work as a project.

Now, back to our scenario…

The WiWi project is running behind schedule because the assessment stage took longer than planned and the project is running over budget because the feasibility stage was not properly analyzed up front. Now you (the next project manager in line) have been assigned the development stage and are expected to bring the project back on time and schedule as well as manage all the work the development stage requires.

All this time the CEO continues to have confidence in his people and processes that the WiWi project will be on time, cost and objectives. You are backed in the corner with this (can’t let the CEO down) and have to cut corners as they did during the feasibility stage.

After some major frustration, a few all-nighters and some creative reporting, you breathe a sigh of relief and can pass the project with all of its problems to the next group in the process line. Unfortunately, the WiWi is still over budget and running even later.

What we have described above is a classic business process that is mistaken for a project management process. The difference is that the business process sees the product as the project, not the stages or even the tasks as individual projects.

Business processes are absolutely necessary for management to plan and work from, but if we view each stage and task as a project, and the leader of each stage and the doer of each task as a project manager, then we will have an accountability chain within the project. Back to our scenario… but this time as a Project Management Process.

The Four Phases of a Project Management Process…

Phase One – Concept/Feasibility

The WiWi has been dropped into the business process by the CEO. The person that is leading the Ideation Stage must consider this stage a project within itself, and themselves as the Project Manager.

Ideation is a part of the WiWi project, but has its own separate time, cost and objectives. These must be defined and agreed to by the Ideation Phase Project Manager and a Project Customer (maybe the Project Customer has to be the CEO!).

Before agreement can happen, the Ideation Stage Project Manager has to be convinced his/her part of the WiWi Project can be accomplished within the time, cost and objective constraints given. In order to determine the true TCO vs. the goal TCO, each member of the Ideation Project Team must view their tasks as projects with themselves as the Task Project Manager and the Ideation Stage Project Manager as their Project Customer. Each person then follows the same project management process to gain agreement that their tasks can be accomplished to the individual time cost and objective constraints given.

When the entire team agrees all tasks can be done based on individual concept/feasibility studies, agreement can be reached or negotiated between the Ideation Stage Project Manager and the WiWi Project Manager.

Wahoo – Phase 1 done!

Phase Two – Organization/Schedule

The Ideation Stage Project Manager now has agreement at a high level to TCO of the Ideation Stage, so it is time now to do detailed planning and scheduling of the Ideation Stage Project of the WiWi Project.

After reconfirming tasks and team members schedules, a critical path analysis is completed by the Ideation Phase Project Manager (including detailed costs) and run by the Ideation Phase Project Customer for another agreement and:

Phase Three – Execution

Double Wahoo – It’s time to actually do all the Ideation Stage tasks.

The Ideation Stage Project Manager manages the critical path tasks, people and budget, and in turn delivers the Ideation Stage Project to the Project Customer.

The Ideation Stage is almost complete (not quite, but almost) because:

Phase Four – Review/Audit

Now it is time to review the project management during the Ideation Stage Project. Did we do enough concept/feasibility? Did the team members follow-through on their promises? How can we improve the project management process? Etc.

Your part of the WiWi Project, the Ideation Stage Project, has been successfully managed by using a project management process. I think a party is now in order, don’t you?

So, back to our original question: What is the Difference between a Business Process and a Project Management Process?

The answer: The difference is that the business process sees the product as the project, not the stages or even the tasks as individual projects.

We as everyday project managers are responsible for the successful completion of the time, cost and objectives of our piece of the Wireless Internet Waffle Iron Project, not the whole thing.

If you are the CEO (or the CEO’s designated authority) and want the WiWi on time, on cost and on objectives, then consider each stage within the business process a project and allow the project management process to work.

But for now, back to us, the Project Managers. When you get your assignment, whether it is a stage or a task, ask who your Project Customer is and stick to the four project management phases of your specific work.

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