Two Very Different Types of Work

A project is any activity that changes the status quo. In business, this could involve the development of new products and services and upgrades or enhancements to existing products and services. In computing, this would include the addition of new data, processes, technology, and techniques. Project work also includes development of new business procedures and structures (organization or physical building).

However, all project managers must understand that there are two very different types of work in all organizations. These are:

  • Process work or business-as-usual, and

  • Project work or business-as- un usual.

As shown in Figure 4.1, there are fundamental differences between these two categories of work and, as we'll continue to examine, these differences are the cause of many problems for project managers. As an example, most project stakeholders are paid to do process work, not project work.

Figure 4.1. Two categories of work


Process Work

The most significant attribute of process work is that it constitutes business as usual for the organization. In other words, at the end of a normal day, the bank branch, its people, and its tasks are unchanged. The next day will be the same as the day before and any change is institutionalized as a one-off project and undertaken by experts.

Process work and tasks are the lifeblood of a process culture. The very nature of the work provides consistency and predictability that is also manifest in the organization's structure and control. People know where they fit, where they belong, and what they have to do.

The most significant attribute of project work is that it is designed to change the status quo. The development of a new product or service, the implementation of a new human resource program, and the installation of reengineered work practices are typical organizational change projects that have an impact beyond the project manager and team.

In other words, the project culture is designed for continuous change and the basic organization structure and job design pattern are dynamic and innovative. When a project has implemented the initial product or system, a continuous process of enhancement and refinement is typical. The innovative nature of the project culture also relies on the creativity of people.

The Two Cultures in Conflict

As shown in Figure 4.2, there is an inherent conflict between the relative stability, scope, and predictability of the process work and the instability, flexible scope, and unpredictability of project work.

Figure 4.2. Two cultures in conflict


In a process culture, Executive X is responsible for the people "under" him in his area. Executive Y is responsible for the people "under" her in her area. This hierarchical structure is familiar to all of us. However, Executive Y is the sponsor of Project Y. Project Y's scope includes major impacts in Executive X's area. Stakeholder X reports to Executive X but is also providing critical work for Project Y and Project Manager Y. What if Executive X invokes his legitimate power and moves Stakeholder X to Project X, leaving no substitute for the stakeholder role on Project Y? Welcome to politics.

We explore this critical distinction in more detail in later chapters and in Part 3, "Additional Resources."

Radical Project Management
Radical Project Management
ISBN: 0130094862
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2002
Pages: 136
Authors: Rob Thomsett © 2008-2017.
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