I came across a blog post recently that described how Mind-mapping software could be used to capture a process. Nothing exceptional about that except there are far better tools to capture processes but hey-ho, some people love their tools. What bemused me was that the post seemed to start off describing processes and ended up describing projects, for example:
- Start by listing the processes steps (process language)
- You can add information on the start and end dates of activities (project language)
This reminded me of an article I wrote (a long time ago) about the differences between the two, which I have updated here.
A PROJECT is a temporary organisation set up to achieve a specific objective, in a given timescale, with particular resources. It has a start and end date. So, for process improvement, we set up Projects, with teams of relevant people, to achieve our improvement objectives. Once they have demonstrated (quantitatively) that they have achieved those objectives, the teams disband. You need a Project Definition at the start of a Project.
A PROCESS is “an activity that converts an input into an output, by doing work”. If a process isn’t working well enough, you may need to set up a PROJECT to improve it. You need a Process Definition , such as SIPOC to summarise a process, before starting any project to improve it or to establish Process Management. It tells us about inputs, outputs, customers and suppliers. It doesn’t tell us anything about what’s wrong with the process, or its current performance. It doesn’t tell us when the performance level needs to be improved by, or by how much, or who should be involved in the team to make it better.
Is a Project ever a Process?
I think the key is in my earlier definition of a project: “a temporary organisation set up to achieve a specific objective, in a given timescale, with particular resources”. Projects are transient, particularly if we are talking about Improvement Projects, whereas processes are likely to be more permanent because they have to deliver outputs day in and day out.
Just to add to the potential for confusion, people talk about Project Management processes – the re-usable method used to run projects!
You can download the full article here.