Issue: Is a Project a Process?
The other day, a colleague and I were discussing the various project management
hierarchies that were identified in a recent paper: More
on Project Management Hierarchies.
In particular, the Figure 2: Project Management Discipline Hierarchy table
shows the first two lowest levels as:
I.e. Tools and Techniques
Single Project Management
I.e. Detailed Project Specific Policies & Procedures
Part Project Management Discipline Hierarchy Table (Figure 2)
My colleague said they had difficulty deciding whether or not a "Project" is
really a "process" in the first place.
This set us thinking. After all, the Glossary in the Project Management Institute's
PMBOK® Guide, 5th Edition (2013) defines a "project" as "A temporary endeavor
undertaken to create a unique product, service or result"
and defines a "process" as "A systematic series of activities directed towards
causing an end result such that one or more inputs will be acted upon to create
one or more outputs." To us, that sounds
very much like a "project" if not the other way round. So we set to work to try
to verify this conclusion.
First, let's get down to basics: How do projects come into being in the first
Answer (at its very basic): Somebody identifies a need, or sees an opportunity,
or has a creative idea that would have the probability of adding value to the
current status quo. Any of these will require a creative solution involving work.
They then decide that because of some complexity, or even risk, this work needs
some managing. Enter project management wherein the creative effort (i.e. the
work) becomes a "project".
Typically, projects have various limitations, and involve the satisfying of
one or more stakeholders. These, too, must be taken into consideration, thus adding
to the project's complexity. To improve the chances of a successful outcome, the
work under these conditions of complexity needs to be conducted with some degree
of rigor under some logical sequence of activity. That is to say, the work needs
to be conducted according to a logical or obvious sequence of steps, i.e., a realistic
and relevant process.
In this way the original project, involving specific work in an appropriate
sequence, translates into a relevant process. In this sense, any project may be
considered as a process, although a given process is not necessarily a project.
But let's step up one level to "project management". Consult any well established
text and we find that "project management" is in fact a collective label for a
whole series of management processes such as scope management, quality management,
time management, cost management, people management, and so on, to name a few.
But how can this be, because we seem to have a process (the project) involving
all sorts of other (management) processes? That's because, like so many other
situations in our environment, processes can be "nested" one inside the other.
So, we may conclude that while the term "project" is not a substitute for the
term "process", under ideal circumstances, a "project" can be described as a "process"
in the sense of a nesting of appropriate subsidiary processes.
Perhaps this little limerick will help us in understanding the relationships:
"Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em
and little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
And the great fleas themselves, in turn,
have greater fleas to go on,
While these again have greater still, and greater
still, and so on."
No doubt that last line refers to programs and portfolios!
3. PMBOK® Guide, 5th Edition Project Management Institute, Inc. PA, USA, 2013, Glossary p553
4. Ibid, p551