what are processes?
In project management, processes transform inputs into outputs through the application of tools of techniques (PMI). Processes are a part of project phases, and are repeated as necessary until the completion criteria for the phase has been satisfied (PMBOK).
The processes are divided into groups, including:
- Initiating Process Group: defines a new project or a new phase within an existing project
- Planning Process Group: establishes the scope of the project, refines the objectives and defines the course of action that is required to attain the objectives of the project
- Executing Process Group: completes the worth defined in the project management plan to satisfy the project requirements
- Monitoring & Controlling Process Group: tracks, reviews and regulates the progress and performance of the project; identifies any areas of change required in the plan; and initiates the corresponding changes
- Closing Process Group: formally completes or closes a project, phase or contract
According to The Digital Project Manager, proper processes are vital in achieving efficiency, as it allows teams to know exactly who is doing what, when and how. This is achieved through a clarification of roles, anticipation of risks and ensuring that the project continues to align with the overall strategy. In the absence of orderly and easy to understand processes, this can lead to project failure, weakened trust in business relationships and wastage of resources.
WHAT ARE PLANS?
Planning is an essential part of project management, as it can reduce project uncertainty, oversights and rework (PMBOK). Teams will develop plans for each aspect of a project and may also devise an overarching project management plan (PMBOK). It is also important to have a solid plan, as it prevents teams from setting ambitious budget estimates and project delivery timelines (The Digital Project Manager).
There are a number of different plans, which are either presented as written documents or visual/virtual whiteboards. A few examples of plans include:
- Communications management plan: a description of how, when and by whom information regarding the project will be administered
- Cost management plan: a description of the costs involved and how they will be planned, structured and controlled
- Risk management plan: a description of how risk management activities will be structured and performed
What does a plan look like?
Here is an example of what a full length plan may look like (risk management). This example has been taken from a risk management plan for a council planned event.
A simplified communications management plan may look something like this:
Although a vital part of a project, planning only becomes efficient to some extent, and too much time spent on plans can cause loss of efficiency. Consequences of prolonged planning may include less return on investment and increased loss of market share (PMBOK).
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF OUTCOMES
Different to outputs, outcomes create benefits and value for the business. For instance, in an IT project, the outcome may be an improved user interface, which leads to increased consumer satisfaction. The initial purpose of a project is to achieve an outcome, therefore it is important that teams focus on defining and reassessing the progress of the outcome throughout the project. The question here is, whether the outcomes should outweigh the processes and plans. What should the balance look like?
Research has found that continuing to review and realign project outcomes has a strong positive effect on a project’s success (Musawir et al., 2017). This is in the case that “actual project outcomes adhered to the target outcomes planned in the business case” (Musawir et al., 2017). This supports the idea that projects should expand their focus on the outcomes of the project, rather than investing too much time and resources into planning and processes.
In a report published by PMI (2016), it was found that only half of the organisations indicated that project benefits were well aligned with business strategic goals. This goes to show that most professionals, including CIOs, project managers and stakeholders, lack focus on defining the outcomes of a project. Instead, there is too much focus on the project outputs, rather than the business outcomes. According to the PMI report, for every US$1 billion that is invested due to poor project performance, around US$122 million is wasted. That figure alone illustrates the immense scale of the consequence in poor management of projects and lack of benefits realisation in organisations.
So, whilst the planning and processes within a project are important in achieving efficiency and success, it is also important to question, to what extent is this true? Should project management teams be focusing more on the outcomes of a project, rather than investing more time than needed on plans and processes? Excessive financial losses are the last thing an organisation wants to face, and as shown in the statistical evidence provided, this can occur if there is a lack of focus on outcomes. As said by internationally recognised project management consultant, Sean Whitaker, “focusing on outcomes will result in a greater chance of project success, happier clients and an improved reputation”.