Project Management, A Process or Practice?

Is the work of project management a process or practice?

I think project management is both a work of process and practice, so what is the distinction?

A process focuses on being consistent and repeatable – you should be able to get predictable results from a process.

PMBOK has five process groups with ten knowledge areas intersecting those process groups for various project management stages.

Practice focuses on applying knowledge, judgment, and wisdom to achieve the desired outcome and dealing with changes. All project managers need to produce results by balancing the triple constraints: scope, time, and cost. Those constraints can often change during project execution.

A good project management practice established and executed by qualified personnel will bring the desired results, even with those limitations.

These days, just about everything we do requires a mix of process and practice. For example, implementing just the ITIL processes verbatim from the framework without applying the necessary effort on building an ITSM practice will just yield generalized, paper processes.

With the pace of changes picking up and the predictability of our environment shrinking, developing a practice is just as important as developing the required processes.

Golf and Tennis

Both golf and tennis are competitive sports. Many people play the games, but there are only so many highly-skilled players.

Both sports involve hitting a small object with an apparatus, but it takes two different approaches to succeed in them.

Playing great golf takes a well-executed process. When the process of swinging is executed consistently with very little or no error, the golf ball will always travel to the spot where the golfer wants it to be. Of course, assuming the same environment conditions such as winds, ground texture, etc.

Playing great tennis takes a well-executed practice. Practice is where the knowledge, skills, and judgment of the player come together in response to the current situation on hand.

Playing golf takes consistency and predictability, so each swing will always get the ball to where it needs to go.

Playing tennis takes flexibility and unpredictability, so each time the ball will go to where your opponent least expects it to be.

Playing golf with the unpredictable swings will likely result in a poor score.

Playing tennis with a predictable consistency will likely get you pwned by your opponent.

Many organizations spend a great amount of effort to perfect their processes. At the same time, they need to spend just as much time to develop a practice that can deal with change and unpredictability thrown at them.