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…So the other day I was in a meeting and a senior executive kept making a distinction between project and process management. This piqued my interest because while project management is a term that I hear thrown around all the time, process management is (at least in my neck of the woods) an altogether rarer one.

It turns out that project/process management are two very unique things, and understanding their difference changes one’s outlook on a number of different life aspects (in my case it shifted not only the way I thought about my own work, but I also caused a minor paradigm in the way I think about performance management). This piece from Alex Hughes at SmartDraw illustrates the concept well, but in summary:

A project is a unique (often one-off) endeavor that has a defined beginning and end. It follows a cycle that includes several phases including initiation, definition, planning, execution and finally the close (e.g. the implementation of a new ERP system or benefits program). Conversely a process might be better defined as an ongoing, repeatable task that doesn’t have a clearly defined beginning or end date (e.g. processing an invoice, posting a new job to an ATS, or entering a work order for maintenance repairs at a plant). Check out the below graph for an even clearer picture of the differentiation/overlap:



At core, process-oriented work falls into the producer/improver buckets, while project-oriented work is more builder focused. Another key difference is that most people in project-oriented jobs also received training on how to be strong project managers. Conversely, many in process-oriented jobs don’t receive equivalent process management training. This is a huge loss because (at least in my opinion) the benefit of such training is immediately apparent.

Case in point: In my first people management role I supervised a department of non-exempt workers in an operations facility. Frustratingly, the first six-months I was in that job I couldn’t seem to get out of managing the details. I would assign people to do tasks and they would start on those tasks… then start doing other things. I would give them task lists and they would complete some items and not others (seemingly at random depending on the day). At first I thought some members of the team might simply be slacking, so I had individual performance management meetings to talk through what was going wrong. I had each colleague document where they were spending their time. And I found they had full days… but they weren’t working on the right things!

…Finally, I realized that I needed to map work in a sequential order. This helped struggling colleagues avoid the “triggers” that were causing them to fall into bad habits and less productive work. In order to be successful here, I had to get very involved in the short-term and understand exactly what went into their jobs, what tasks needed to be completed in what order, and when. This was surprisingly difficult work, but in addition to improving work procedures the documentation, the process also ultimately helped with optimization of the knowledge transfer and management processes for incoming colleagues.

But in hindsight? Some process management training would have helped me to do a more effective job of understanding the scope of the challenge (which would have in turn allowed me to more quickly generate some solutions).

I don’t know… what are your thoughts here? Do strong process management skills help facilitate performance management? What sort of training does your organization have internally for process and performance management? Who does it provide this training to?

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.