What's The Difference Between Process Management vs Project Management?

What is the difference between project vs process management? Agile projects need more than just a Gantt chart, they require a visual representation of an existing process with a detailed project plan. Complex projects need automation.

Project management, or process management? Although the terms seem similar, they are actually quite different. In some areas, project and process management overlap, but at the end of the day, both techniques seek to accomplish a different goal.

Historically, managers have opted for project management again and again, without realizing the repeatable processes that lay underneath. True productivity in all projects comes from identifying the difference between these two terms and understanding how to reap the benefits of both.

What is project management?

Project management is the management of a one-off event that has a clear start and end. The role of the manager here is to manage all the tasks and responsible staff associated with this one-off event. 

Project management is what most managers are familiar with since it's the simplest to organize in the spur of the moment. If you have an end goal you want to achieve, like launching a marketing campaign or migrating data, then it's easy to identify what tasks have to be completed and who should be involved.

The problem arises when you manage projects in a similar way again and again. Managers spend extra time writing the same briefs, sending emails to the same people, and taking similar steps in their project management. When the only factor that changes is the subject of the project, it's a real blind spot for companies that may be costing extra resources.

What is process management?

Process management, on the other hand, involves seeing beneath the surface and finding the repeatable pattern. When you have a set of tasks that are performed in the same sequence each time, that's a business process. In this case, tasks and processes go hand in hand.

While process management may seem new, it's also a technique that has been around for as long as companies have existed. The main difference is that managing processes usually takes more time and foresight. Instead of managing each process ad hoc as it comes up, process management involves defining the process beforehand.

Say, for instance, you want to migrate data from one system to the other. Chances are that the same people are performing this task, with the same sequence of steps. This is an example of a business process that could be standardized and repeated which makes the project itself easier to manage.

Project vs process management

The main difference between process and project management is that project management handles one-off events, and process management handles the repeatable sequence of events.

Process management graphic

The goal of project management is to give a clear view of the current project status quo. The project manager needs to know who is working on what and how far along they are. That's why deadlines in project management are so important.

The aim of process management is to make the sequence of events as efficient as they can be. The manager needs to see clearly defined steps and responsible assignees, as well as a big-picture view, for efficient process management. As you can see, this involves cleverly integrating technology and people into the process itself.

Looking more closely, you can see that project management requires a lot of manual work. The data from project management tools only moves when an employee checks a box, or when the manager moves one card to the next kanban board. Even if automations are offered, they need to be manually set up which can be very tedious.

Process management, on the other hand, is fully automatic by nature. The data moves automatically from one stage to the next when an employee has completed the task, or when the manager signs off on a critical decision. This means that in the end, the manager spends less time involved with daily tasks and more time making creative or strategic decisions.

Which one is best for you?

While they may seem mutually exclusive, it is possible to perform both process and project management at the same time. Automation in process and project management can also help managers spend less time on mundane project management tasks like writing and sending emails, and more time making strategic decisions.

For instance, project managers can sit down to collaboratively define a repeatable process for their next upcoming project. From experience, they already know the steps the project will follow and who will be involved. Using a process automation tool, the manager can define the process in minutes and enable some tasks (like sending tasks to each responsible employee) to be done automatically.

To manage the finer details of the project, the manager can integrate the process management platform with a project management platform. This way, the employees can keep track of all their deadlines and the project manager can maintain a clear high-level view without being consumed by daily, manual tasks.

While it takes the manager a few extra minutes at the start, in the long run, the project manager can use this repeatable process across all their future projects. Efficient project management techniques are now all about long-term sustainability.

Efficiency in the management process means future-proofing your existing business processes so that you can spend less time each week sending manual briefs. This means future projects will take less time to set up, give the manager a more comprehensive high-level view, and ultimately make all upcoming projects more efficient.

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