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What Could a Project Manager Possibly Teach Me?
By James Lawther

My wife is a project manager. She is Prince 2 certified and horribly organized; organized to the point of perfection. The problem with project managers is just that, they are too organized, they leave nothing to chance. They are just, well, rigid.

I on the other hand am a process manager. I am a Six Sigma Master Black Belt (no less). That is a proper qualification. Managing a process is far more complicated than a project. Processes are dynamic, they change, they move. A project only has to deliver one thing; processes can deliver thousands of things a minute.

Clearly that is a more complicated job, for a higher skilled individual.

Let me give you a flavor of the things I need to worry about when designing a new process, the questions I ask:

  • What does the customer want?

    Processes produce things, it is really important to know what the customer wants. This leads to a couple of sub questions:

    • Who is the customer, who is paying for the output? Is it clear who the real customer is and who is just an interested party?
    • What do they want? Is it specified? Is it written down?
  • How do you deliver that product?

    Do you have a clear defined process? Is it repeatable? Is it written down? Does everybody know what it is? Have people been trained?

  • How do you measure performance?

    There are fundamentally 3 things to worry about, cost quality and service:

    • How much does it cost to produce each item?
    • Does the process give the customer what they want in a timely fashion?
    • Is the output the right quality? Does it meet the specification?
  • Roles and responsibilities; who does what?

    In a factory it is fairly clear who drives the fork lift truck. Often it isn’t nearly so clear with business processes, tasks fall between two stools; people say it is “not my job”. It can be intensely frustrating.

  • What can go wrong?

    A powerful tool is a risk analysis, thinking through all the things that could possibly go wrong in a process and then weighting them; deciding which eventualities are worth worrying about and which you are prepared to live with.

  • What are the controls?

    How do you control the process? What are the mitigating actions that you put in place to make sure that your process works perfectly, that issues are minimized and risks don’t occur.

    So there you have it, a short lesson in business process management. As you can see being a process manager is far more complex and dynamic than just managing a project.

Addendum

My wife has just read this over my shoulder, tut-tutted loudly and passed me Project Management for Dummies. It seems that project management has a whole lot more to do with process management than I thought.

Whilst not busy decrying other professions James Lawther is responsible for process improvement for an insurance company. He gets upset by business operations that don’t work and apoplectic about poor customer service. Visit his blog “The Squawk Point” to find out more about service improvement.

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