Processes, the Building Blocks for a Better Project

By Rick Edwards and Shawn P. Quigley

How projects and processes are related

If one were to describe their project to someone, they would most likely describe the end deliverable or objective of the project (a.k.a scope), the expected completion date (time) and the expected resource requirements needed to faithfully execute the plan (cost).   Nowhere in this description would the HOW this is to be accomplished be discussed.  Of course, as Project Managers, we understand the how is; often, the more telling description of the probability of success of the project.   The reason the how is often left out, is that, especially in matrix organizations, the how is not the purview of the project manager.  The how is the domain of the line manager.  

This perceived disconnect between something as intrinsically essential as the how a project is executed and the project’s success is a source of conflict and frustration within many organizations.  If the project manager is responsible for delivering the Scope, on time and within budget, but not responsible for the how the plan is to be executed, can a project manager have any hope of being successful?  

Tool User and Tool Maker

The how (meaning the processes the project uses to execute the plan to deliver on scope, time and cost) are the tools used to craft the expected output.  A craftsman utilizes the appropriate tool at the appropriate time to create value.  Rarely will he make a change to the tool itself if it is not performing the task at the appropriate quality level (although he may become frustrated and cuss a lot).  That is the tool-makers job.  In the same way, project managers select from a pre-determined set of tools and processes to accomplish his or her task.  But what should the project manager do if the tool is not up for the task, aside from venting at the nearest wall?  An open dialogue with the tool-maker might provide a solution for a longer lasting change.  This open dialogue and outcome would still need to be captured as a positive lesson learned.  The lessons learned documented by the project team are suggestions to the line managers on how to improve their processes performance.

How does your organization provide process improvement ideas to the tool-makers?

Define the following three terms in your own words as they apply to your organization:

  1. Matrix
  2. Process
  3. Program

Retain those definitions when reading the following two papers and think of how they could apply.

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