Driving Business Efficiency: The Fusion of Process and Project Management

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Webster's dictionary defines fusion as a merging of diverse, distinct or separate elements into a unified whole. While in the past the word fusion was often used with regard to energy, most recently it has been associated with food and music. "Asian fusion" restaurants offer an "East meets West" culinary experience; popular music offers a fusion of styles, combining jazz with rock, classical music or ethnic elements.

Technology has also 'created' fusion with the merging of product offerings. Whereas telephone and cable providers once provided those specific services only, now voice, internet and television are often available through many formerly single providers.

With current economic conditions, companies are striving to do more with fewer resources, both human and material. So it should be no surprise that the fusion of business processes and practices is both relevant and necessary. Over the past two decades business methodologies and corporate programs have established track records that demonstrate performance and quality improvements within their organizations. Initiatives -- such as Six Sigma, Total Quality Management (TQM) and Business Process Management (BPM) -- often have lives all their own, functioning as organizations within organizations, complete with budget and staff. Many corporations have, however, been forced to scale back such efforts, although the need to deliver results remains.

Today, companies need to be innovative to drive new business. And process improvements have the capacity to transform businesses, leading to innovation and new opportunities. In his book 'Management Challenges for the 21st Century,' theorist Peter Drucker states that "Continuous process improvements in any one area eventually transform the business. They lead to innovation. They lead to new processes. They lead to new business."

As a prerequisite for innovation, Drucker says companies must strive to achieve greater operational effectiveness.  They must improve their internal processes to remain competitive and to provide quality services and products. To do so, internal processes need to be streamlined and more efficient. This includes managing static business processes – the lubricant of a well-oiled corporate machine - and the key components of business process management.

AIIM, the Association for Information and Image Management, is a group that provides education, research and best practices to help organizations find, control, and optimize information. At an event entitled "10 Steps to Business Efficiency," AIIM members presented survey results from hundreds of respondents regarding key factors that would make businesses more efficient. Interestingly, while "automating business processes" was cited as being of high importance, 69% of survey respondents indicated that the only projects that had a chance of getting approved needed to demonstrate a one-year ROI.

While process improvements have the capacity to transform businesses, innovation also relies on new initiatives and dynamic projects that often live outside of established business processes. As companies strive to do more with less, business analysts are often called upon to function as both process/project architects and business owners. The business analyst needs tools that will enable him or her to move seamlessly between managing the business process and the activities or projects that comprise that process. Business analysts need a tool that enables them to transform knowledge of their business into manageable and efficient processes.

Today managing projects and business processes has more in common than ever before. Both have activities and tasks, often with inter-dependencies and sometimes constraints that need to be scheduled and completed by a variety of people. Both require domain knowledge, rely on technology to effect change and require management to ensure a 'successful marriage.'

For years, BPM tools have enabled companies to more effectively manage their processes. Linear workflows with repeatable steps are the staples of business processes -- and a variety of software solutions are available. But what tools are available to manage ad hoc projects and processes, with non-linear workflows and conditional steps that can vary? Full-time project management staffing is a luxury most companies can no longer afford. Today's business analysts and IT resources are being asked to manage such processes.

So, what would a 'fused' tool look like? What capabilities and functionality must it provide to manage both processes and projects? Traditional BPM products, with robust workflow, electronic forms, document management and reporting, work effectively with processes that are well-defined, structured and typically linear and sequential: completion of Step 1 leads to Step 2, etc.

While workflow is at the heart of automation, traditional linear workflows are fraught with inefficiencies for non-linear processes/projects. What is needed is software that provides for the definition and automation of workflow processes, offers a project management interface, includes a project plan and Gantt chart and provides attributes, rules and conditions for non-linear processes. This software would be a first step in providing the fusion of project management and BPM.

Here, then, are some of the key areas to consider when evaluating tools to facilitate the fusion of PM and BPM.

The ability to:

  • Associate traditional BPM/workflow attributes with individual activities within a project framework and automate that process based on the project definition. This is an "activity- based BPM model" vs. a more traditional "flow-based BPM model."

  • Model workflow processes through a project management interface (e.g. project plan, Gantt chart) controlled through an internal state machine that assigns activities and initiates workflows based on the definitions of activities.

  • Administer a running workflow through a project management interface, including the reassignment of users, altering of dates and updating dependencies.

  • Automatically display the appropriate buttons on an electronic form based on the configuration of the workflow process or activities.

  • Provide predictive analysis of running processes. The "predictive" logic uses statistics from past workflow processes to calculate and determine when future activities are likely to be late.

  • Report on the status of an automated workflow process, including the overlay of the activities on a timeline.

  • Provide an aggregate status, available across multiple processes/workflows, that is not timeline-based. Rather it is based on weighting the individual activities in the overall project. This provides a high-level view, based on past activity of the processes, of which activities are the bottlenecks, or which are consistently late.

  • Integrate with Microsoft Project, enabling running workflows to be exported into the MS Project format and for workflow definitions to be created automatically.

This new approach to BPM is necessary to address non-linear processes. It recognizes that there are multiple steps that must occur with certain dependencies, but that the order does not necessarily follow a specific sequence. Unlike more traditional BPM tools, this new kind of software will facilitate the fusion (or intersection) of process and project management. It will embrace the definition and automation of workflow processes through activities and sub-activities and will provide business analysts with technology that can effect change. The goal of this software will be to transform the knowledge of the business into manageable and efficient processes, leading to increased innovation, productivity and new business opportunities.

Author: "Buffy Schnurbusch, PMP, is a senior project manager at BP Logix, in San Diego, CA. She has more than 25 years of experience including project management and development. Buffy can be reached at Buffy.S@bplogix.com. BP Logix Project Director, developed to address non-linear processes, is available through BP Logix (www.bplogix.com)"


 

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COMMENTS

trentwood posted on Thursday, July 30, 2009 8:51 AM
I think this fusion is bound to happen. For it to be successful and work with ad hoc, non-linear projects it needs to be a relatively simple and easy to understand methodology, a methodology that can be taught like traditional project management concepts of wbs, network diagrams and critical path. Hopefully it won't be driven by technology or vendors but rather a cross-section of practitioners and academia.

I think of projects as a combination of phases and tasks, each with gating items, exit criteria or deliverables. Most processes have similar items and dependencies. The simplest way to merge traditional project management with BPM is to replace tasks with processes or repeated processes. Each task would be completed when the process completes and required gating items have been achieved. The outputs of the processes provide inputs to linked tasks that have a finish to start relationship.

Project managers frequently need to explain or confirm the processes required for the tasks in their projects. For example, the PM calls a meeting and confirms who will do each task, the correct order of activities, communications, deliverables and hand-offs between team members. This type of explanation can be codified as a process in a project management suite. However, I think simplicity is key since ad hoc projects are in flux and the PM must adapt plans. If a PM has to spend 2 days to reprogram and test a process this just won't work. The system needs to be fluid.

Thanks for the article. I'm wondering when BPM or at least workflow will appear in more project management tools.
rwarren posted on Thursday, July 30, 2009 11:57 AM
Actually, I wonder when project management will appear in BPM or workflow tools.
llmccall posted on Monday, September 14, 2009 1:03 PM
Thanks for your article. Some feedback--I hope it is taken as helpful.

When you say,

"What is needed is software that provides for the definition and automation of workflow processes, offers a project management interface, includes a project plan and Gantt chart and provides attributes, rules and conditions for non-linear processes. "

Maybe that's true but I'm not sure your article makes your case.

I suspect you have some good ideas embedded in your article, but I confess I read it three times and I can't follow your reasoning. You seem to be making many points, but they all seem rather loosely connected:

-Organizations may expect BAs to also be PMs and vice versa.
-Mgt trend now is to seek ROI in 12 months or less.
-Some business processes have characteristics that can in some respects resemble projects.
-Some business processes don't fit the traditional linear-sequential flow model.
-Some things called "projects" are actually operational business processes.
-Projects lack formal processes
-Project management tools lack workflow automation.
etc.

I'm not sure you connected all the dots--but maybe its just me on a Monday A.M.
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