Project or Process?

I’m wrestling with a problem of which is more important, the project or the process.

At first glance the answer seems obvious; the project is most important because it is ostensibly why we are in business. Clients come to us (or we to them in the case of an RFP) and we help them realize their projects. If we stopped working on projects we’d stop getting clients and we’d all be out of a job. Certainly then the project is critically important.

So what of process? If all else is secondary to the project why bother working the process? Why not stick with what’s working? Certainly makes some sense, particularly when we focus on the immediacy of this project and the next. Who has time to bother with process when there are projects to complete?

The ugly truth is that your process is more important than your project.

I should clarify here that my use of the word process is in no small way a placeholder for something more than “a series of actions, changes, or functions bringing about a result”.  To my mind it includes just about everything we do that’s not directly related to the project.  Office culture, standards manuals, email policies, marketing tactics and company moto are all things that have just as much and more important than the project.  It’s what gives us whatever edge we may have in the market place… in addition to any awards we might have won as well of course.

Process is what allows us to grow and change with the evolving world and business climate around us.  If we continue to hold onto outdated processes and insist on working the same methods the market will bypass us and find other ways to achieve its goals.  The only way through this is to accept continual change and work on process.

So process is important too.  More important than the project because process is about growing the company, the industry and yourself.  The project is about a completion date and a set of expectations.  It has an end and an outcome that is focused on the now with little to say about what comes next.  Process is the next and the in-between and the before and the during.

Projects are what allow us to work on the process.

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2 Responses to Project or Process?

  1. Dangit Greg, I need to go to bed but I gotta leave some comments 🙂

    This is a great topic and as much as I like the “process”, I feel that the Project is what’s most important.

    Process is extremely important, especially in a large organization. It delivers comfort both to upper management when they’re hovering at 30,000 feet and not really “touching” projects, and also to clients. There’s an element of predictability that results in this sense of comfort, that there’s a roadmap for completing a project. This process is crucial when schedules are tight with little to no tolerance/slack. Without this level of comfort, your clients might start looking elsewhere. So explaining your process to them is very important to capture work right now, and to retain them for future work prospects.

    Now everyone can have a great plan of action or process, but that doesn’t guarantee remarkable results. If one operates in a commodity market, process might be all it takes to get work. However, being remarkable isn’t guaranteed by process and in most cases, that’s what gives one firm/architect/designer/engineer the edge over the competition. Having said that, I like to think of process as a vehicle to enable us to be remarkable, to strighten the path from A to Z and cut down on unproductive exploration, thus freeing us up to engage in productive, creative design exploration. Now I can have more time to be remarkable, knowing that once I reach point “X”, I have a solid and predictable process to “package” the remarkable ideas into an expected deliverable.

    We see too many great ideas fail because they get processed wrong/incorrectly, ending in a train wreck. If we solidify this portion of the “assembly line”, we can achieve better results. One thing working against coming up with this ideal process is the adverse effect of churn: you spend time nurturing a culture and teaching methods/doctrine and then some leave, only to be replaced by other employees who need to be nurtured once again, starting a new repetitive cycle. So process has to be simple to understand and quick to teach.

    Time is a huge factor because if we had plenty to spare, then discussing process might seem trivial. On the other hand, if there are too many cooks in the kitchen, even with ample time, things might get spoilt if there’s no process/chain of command (I added some salt…did you do that too?).

  2. I’m probably using the wrong word but I can’t think of a better… besides, project and process both start with “P” and it makes for a better blog title.

    It sounds like you’re using process in a way that I would suggest is a part of the project. You can’t worry about how to get a project done (its process) until you get the project. For me this sort of process and the project are indistinguishable.

    What I’m trying to talk about is maybe better described as office culture or the more winded, how you run your business. There’s some obvious overlap between this and the process that you run inside of a project and I certainly agree that great design separates the good firms from the remarkable.

    To be remarkable, to affect the changes we need to make to grow our businesses and industry today, we have to step outside of our comfort with the project as all important and take a hard look at whatever it is we’ve been ignoring. We need to work on our practice as much/more than on our projects.

    Hey! Maybe practice is the word I should have used, and it even starts with “P”. w00t!

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