Project management processes
There are heaps of processes in project management including those for managing stakeholders, issues, risks, variations etc. And developing a process is best managed as a project. This blog entry shows us how to prepare a process map and provides us with a comprehensive checklist with which to review a process and ensure its continuous improvement.
There is no universal agreement about process mapping terminology, but the following would all be reasonable definitions of a process:
“A process is a logical sequence of activities that takes inputs, adds value, and produces outputs for an internal or external customer.”
“A process comprises all the activities that people must undertake to achieve a particular outcome.”
“A process is a series of steps to achieve a desired result.”
“A process is a collection of related events performed to provide products and services for customers.”
“A process is a set of activities with a start and a finish, with each activity adding value to the process.”
Typical benefits that effective and efficient processes provide are these:
- They safeguard us from missing vital steps.
- They help ensure predictable and consistent outputs (zero variation is the ideal).
- Shorten learning curves.
- Provide a common vision and basis for communication.
- Limit procrastination and complacency.
- Enable a valid comparison of outputs.
- Capture and preserves corporate knowledge.
- Provide a basis for continuous improvement.
- Show how people interact.
- Help ensure that internal customers are recognised and teamwork improved.
- Increase profitability, productivity and performance.
- Reduce errors, defects, waste and rework.
- Allow for faster, cheaper and better outputs.
- Simplify workflows.
- Highlight troublesome aspects.
- Give competitive advantage.
- Mean satisfied customers.
- Provide a basis for benchmarking.
- Prevent stagnation.
- Improve competitiveness.
But process mapping and their continuous improvement have challenges such as those listed here:
- Poorly described needs.
- Conflicting needs.
- Changing needs.
- Unreasonable development timeframe.
- Lack of funding and other resources.
- Individual performance exposed.
- Lack of expertise.
- Lack of user training.
- Lack of formal authority
- Lack of senior management support.
- Functional agendas take priority.
- Lack of teamwork.
- Unclear roles and responsibilities.
- Poor cross-functional communications.
- Lack of buy-in and commitment.
- Lack of flexibility and local discretion.
- Apprehension that bureaucracy will proliferate.
- Good old resistance to change.
- Continuously rewritten processes keep us continuously confused.
- Duplicate processes.
- Stifle creativity.
- Uncoordinated updates.
- No central process database.
- Non-intuitive for users.
- Content not layered. Scroll not drill-down.
- No process editorial control.
- No structured approach to process development.
- No process owners.
- Unusable processes.
- Processes out-of-date.
- Constant fire-fighting.
- No suitable software.
- Too time-consuming to continuously improve.
- Job security under threat. Redundancies?
- Why should we do it? It’s a lot of work.
- We know how to do it. It doesn’t need to be documented.
The basic symbols that we use to draw a process chart or diagram are these:
We use these symbols to map out our process. Consider a potentially lethal game of chance called Russian roulette in which a player places a single round in a revolver, spins the cylinder, places the muzzle against their head, and pulls the trigger. If they are not then dead, they pass the pistol to the next player. Try to be the last player in a team of seven. But here’s the process using the symbols:
Flowcharts or process maps can also be of the cross-functional variety where swim lanes are used. Here are some examples:
Some design points:
- Swim lanes usually show responsibilities, which might be individuals, groups, functional areas, contractors, suppliers, or consultants.
- Diagram may be drawn with vertical or horizontal swim lanes.
- Often the customer swim lane is the top one.
- Swim lanes and activities might also be colour-coded.
- Arrows pin-point where responsibilities are transferred.
- Activities can be codified.
- Flowcharts might be ‘as-is’ and ‘to-be’.
- Sometimes referred to as blueprints.
- Process cycle time is determined by longest pathway from start to finish.
Process Audit Checklist
Periodically we need to check our processes to ensure their effectiveness and efficiency. Some useful process checking questions are these:
- Is the process purpose valid? Why are we doing this? Is it essential?
- Does the process possess strategic fit?
- Are process inputs, activities and outputs consistent with organisational core values?
- Do the outputs satisfy the process customers – internal and external?
- Are the process performance measures and targets appropriate?
- Are all inputs satisfactory in terms of cost, timeliness, quantity and quality?
- Are there process delays, waiting time, queues or bottlenecks?
- Do all process activities add value?
- Is the published process actually used?
- Is the process properly applied?
- Does rework occur?
- Is there scrap or wastage?
- Is cycle time minimised?
- Are activities in natural/logic order?
- Are there minimal backward movements?
- Should some activities be combined?
- Are there the fewest possible interfaces?
- Is the process properly recorded?
- Do users understand the process?
- Is the process effective?
- Is the process efficient?
- Should any activities be automated?
- Is better technology available?
- Is there a process owner and sponsor?
- Do senior management support the process?
- Are there unneeded activities?
- Are there easy linkages to relevant documents?
- Are there drill-down features?
- Do the users possess the necessary aptitude and attitude?
- Is there a pro-process organisation culture?
- Is there unnecessary duplication?
- Where are the performance gaps?
- Are their environmental frustrations?
- Do process team members cooperate well?
- Are roles and responsibilities clear?
- Are process updates properly approved, coordinated and communicated?
- Should some activities be combined? Or split?
- Are there too many hand-offs?
- Are there external factors that significantly affect process success?
- Are process customers surveyed?
- Can more activities be completed in parallel?
- Should we outsource inefficient or risky activities?
- Can we eliminate physical movement of work?
- Are there inspections that should be eliminated?
- Are all approval activities needed?
- Can the process be simplified?
- Is the output consistent?
- Are there missing activities?
- What is the process ‘velocity’?
- Are all activities in the correct sequence?
- Do we apply the Pareto principle (80:20 Rule) to accelerate a process or reduce its cost?
- Should someone else, or another department, do this activity?
- Is the process performed too often?
- Are roles and responsibilities clearly documented?
- Are decisions made at lowest practicable level?
- Can we reduce staff numbers?
A process development or audit endeavour should be tackled as a project for which of course there should be a process usually consisting of the key sequential activities (or phases to use project lifecycle terminology) of conceive, develop, execute, and finish.