How Processes Disguised as Projects Can Hurt Your Business (and What You Need to Do About It Today)
A while back, Alex Hughes wrote about the Project vs Process dilemma like this:
Project management is a term that gets thrown around a lot in the enterprise environment. These days, it seems that any organized effort that includes tasks with due dates is deemed to be a project.
But what if it isn’t? Misidentifying it could set your project or initiative back at the very outset.
Ask yourself: “What are the main tasks for my next project?” If you answer with responses such as, “begin requisition,” “send notification letter,” or “log hours,” ask yourself another question. “Is what I am describing actually a project?” Are you sure that it is not in fact a process that you are describing that just happens to have steps with due dates associated with them?

Process vs Project Venn Diagram

Traditionally, enterprise projects are one-off major endeavors that have resources dedicated to unique tasks that are specific to that one endeavor. When I think of a project, I think of things like replacing an office phone system or switching corporate health care providers. Basically, traditional projects are endeavors that are not part of the regular operational processes of the business.
The point here is that different people define “projects” and therefore “project management” differently. That said, when starting a project using project management software, it is important to define what your specific needs are and what type of “project” you are taking on. What I have found is that a lot of project management mistakes are made at the very beginning during the planning phases. As you might imagine, having project team managers and team members who all have different ideas as to what a project is could prove to be problematic. Here are three pointers to help keep you on track to a solid foundation when working with project management software.

Is it a project or a process?

As I mentioned before, more often than not when I ask a client to start listing off some main project tasks for me, they will say things like “feed client information into computer”, “send kick-off letter”, “request references”, etc.
When I see this happening, I follow up the description with something like, “Okay, how many times do you do this per month?” The client then informs me that they do this “project” all the time.
What are you noticing about this description? What the client is describing in the aforementioned scenario is in fact a process, not a project. This just happens to be a process that requires due dates and sign offs. When starting your project, it is important to note that just because a particular task requires accountability from a certain person, and has a due date, does not necessarily mean that it a project task.
Let’s say the project is “preparing a research report.” If you’re in the business of producing these types of reports on an ongoing basis, it’s likely that you have a process, as shown in this flowchart:
Steps in the process can be broken down into sub-processes, with additional flowcharts, such as this:
Just the ability to embed automated decision-making like the above example shows is a huge benefit, especially when there are many conditional paths that can be gone down based on the information at hand. It will ensure consistency in execution, and eliminate potential errors from tasks being forgotten or completed for no reason.
But process management software provides significantly more functionality than just automated decisions. It includes, for example, the ability to build forms and assign them to specific tasks, add automation like sending emails or updating a database based on specified criteria, and enforce rules to ensure tasks aren’t marked as complete until all the prerequisites for completing the task have been met.
Work-Relay combines the power of process management with the functionality provided by project management into a single, unified tool.
If you think about it, the mere fact that project tasks have predecessors and successors means that they are in fact processes. It’s just that Gantt charts are a really bad way to design processes. And of course, process swimlane diagrams provide no concept of time.
One last thought – the skills on needs to design a process are very different from the skills required to manage a project:

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