Project management and process management are sometimes seen as synonymous. Both are used by organizations that want to achieve the most efficient operations and effective outcomes. But these two disciplines are not interchangeable. Today, we’ll explore the differences between project management vs process management, as well as where they overlap, and how each is best applied to achieve optimal results.
Let’s get started.
Projects and processes
First of all, it’s useful to look at exactly what projects and processes are.
A project is a self-contained, finite endeavor. That could be launching a new product, migrating your technology infrastructure to the cloud—anything that has a defined goal and an end-state.
Processes, on the other hand, are a more fundamental and granular part of an organization’s operations. The term “process” covers all kinds of tasks—regular, sporadic, or one-offs—that must be undertaken. It could be the process of getting a contract approved and signed off, onboarding a new customer or employee, or any number of other business tasks with clear procedures and a set of boxes to be ticked.
Project management vs process management: Driving vs engineering
If you think of an organization as a vehicle, projects are the individual journeys it makes – from project kickoff to its intended goal.
Project management, therefore, could be seen as the way the vehicle is steered to its destination, and the route it takes.
On the other hand, processes are the inner workings—its engine, its steering mechanism, all the things that keep it moving. Process management ensures that all the components (departments and processes) are working efficiently, that the fuel (the organization’s resources) is used most effectively, and that nothing causes the vehicle to slow down or stop.
An organization with poor process management is like a badly designed and maintained car that guzzles gas, can’t move very fast, and breaks down frequently. But a business with all its processes optimized via effective process management is like a new, top-of-the-range model. Reliable, efficient, fast, agile, and able to make the necessary journeys faster, at a lower cost, with fewer hitches along the way.
Process management facilitates organizational optimization, tuning up any or all of your regular tasks so that your business operates better.
Different disciplines, different applications
However, project management vs. process management isn’t a case of two diametric opposites. These disciplines do have a lot in common. They both deal with assigning tasks to individuals within an organization/project and ensuring that collaboration occurs as smoothly and effectively as possible.
But, as we’ve explored, project management does this in macro, and process management in micro.
The discipline of project management and its tools aren’t suitable for use in process management. A process is not a project, and instead of using scrum boards or other elements of project management methodology, processes are best suited to being mapped out into workflows.
Digital workflows as a driving force
Digital workflows put processes into tightly controlled structures that prompt everyone with the part they need to play when it’s their turn, automate the parts a computer can do without human intervention, and expedite the entire task from start to finish.
Project management tools aren’t designed to handle these myriad tasks that may occur several times every day, or in even larger numbers, where speed, accuracy, and reducing repetition fatigue are key concerns. Going back to our vehicle analogy, they’re made to manage individual journeys, not the constantly moving, intricate machinery of the vehicle.
The importance of process management as an ongoing endeavor
Another major difference between project management vs process management comes back to the finite nature of a project versus the constant repetition of the same processes, over and over again.
Once a project is over, that’s it. But as processes are the essential machinery that makes up your business itself, they require constant maintenance, fine-tuning and improvement. Just as a vehicle will need the attention of mechanics many times over the years, new parts fitted, existing components repaired or upgraded, so does a business require this kind of attention to its processes.
By constantly examining and developing your business processes, you can ensure that they’re running as well as they can, and fulfilling their potential every time. Not only that, but you can eliminate faults, prevent breakdowns and ensure you can keep pace with competitors.
That’s the true importance of process management. Even if your projects are expertly steered, you won’t reach your goals quickly and efficiently if your processes aren’t up to scratch.