Project management v. business process management: What you need to know

These two management disciplines are intertwined, but they are separate and distinct.

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When looking at business process management (BPM) and project management (PM), it can sometimes seem like that old chicken-and-egg adage: It's difficult sometimes to sort out which comes first. The reality is, they affect each other. Making changes to business processes can trigger the need for a project, and starting a new project can trigger changes to business processes. 

SEE: How to build a successful project manager career (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Some businesses may view project management to be at the forefront, while others may see business process management as the driver. This can quickly become an ongoing philosophical debate that involves lengthy explanations from both sides. 

Before looking at the relationship between processes and projects, it's essential to first define the two as unique and separate disciplines.

What is business process management?

Business process management involves the redesign and management of a company's internal processes or workflows. It isn't necessarily a project but an ongoing initiative to ensure a company's processes are effectively working to meet company goals. A company can kick off a specific process improvement project. That project would have a defined start and end, but the company would establish an ongoing process monitoring and management phase that continues after the project is closed. 

What is project management?

Project management has a defined start and end; it doesn't have any ongoing stages or components like process management does. Projects accomplish specific objectives within a set timeline and follow five unique phases: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and controlling, and close. Projects are managed by a project manager and his or her team. In contrast, business process management initiatives can be managed by a business analyst, business process improvement specialist, or other functional team leads. 

How do processes and projects affect each other?

Now that we've looked at each as a separate discipline, it's essential to recognize how business process management and project management must work together to create organizational success. When BPM is optimized, it creates a more solid foundation for projects to be executed effectively. When internal processes aren't working right, project work may become more complex, triggering scope changes to address workflow issues. Conversely, when projects are initiated, they often affect existing processes. This could be problematic if those processes were already working well. 

Do you need a change manager?

Continually monitoring and balancing business processes and projects is an ongoing effort that can require the assistance of a change management expert who is trained and experienced in managing the impact of change within a business. These experts specialize in helping companies ensure changes to their processes have a minimal impact, especially as it relates to people. If your company has a change management expert, lean on him or her to help ensure smooth transitions going forward. 

Best practices for managing processes and projects

Here are some more best practices to maximize the success of any business:

  • Make sure to see BPMs and PMs as partners with a stake in outcomes 

  • When planning projects or business process changes, whenever possible, engage the help of cross-functional team members, business analysts, project managers, and change management specialists 

  • Create a detailed project plan that factors in project goals and process effects

  • Maintain ongoing communication-- it's vital

  • Identify all potential risk points as tasks are being completed

  • Monitor and track progress regularly to accurately capture changes and issues

Remember that although business process management and project management are distinct disciplines, they directly affect each other. Maximizing business success means your business will need both of these people working together.

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