Do tasks, projects, and processes sometimes seem like one big blur? Never fear, help is at hand. This article on task vs project vs process management will show you which is which. It will also show you why they are different, and what the importance is of those differences in your everyday working life. But first, a word on what they have in common. This will also help explain why people sometimes mix them up.
- Output. The aim of the management of a task, a project or a process is to achieve an output or a result. Another word for this is “deliverable.” Depending on what you want, the output might be a change (for example, you make a payment, or design a new product) or a confirmation (you check your office security is working.)
- Timing. In most cases, timing or schedule plays a part in the execution of a task, project, or process. A trigger for your action might be a certain event (you receive an invoice to be paid) or a certain date or day of the week (check security every Monday morning), or you might want to get output by a given deadline (design a new product by two months from now.)
- Optimization. It is often important to get the output you want in the most efficient way possible. So, for example, invoice payment should be speedy and require little or no effort (after correct authorization), effective security checks should take no more than one hour, and that new product design above should require the fulltime dedication of no more than two R & D engineers.
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Understanding the Different Terms
The next step is to see whether you should choose task management, project management or process management to get what you want. There are two parameters for the items of task vs project vs process management. The first is the number of stages involved (single stage or multi-stage.) The second is repeatability (will you do it just once or many times.)
- Task management. We can define a task as a single action or an action with accomplishment in one stage. For example, we could consider making a payment online from a company bank account to be a task (done just once), and similarly a check to see if an office alarm system is switched on (repeated from time to time.) The task is the simplest of the three items described here. Nonetheless, optimization remains important, making sure people remember each task so that they carry it out in a timely, efficient, and effective way.
- Project management. Projects often proceed in several stages, to give a specific or one-off output, such as the design of a new product. Projects can vary from the simple (organize an onsite visit for a customer) to the complex (build a new space rocket), but typically without repetition of the project after it has finished.
- Process management. A process accomplishes a result in a repeatable way. Good process management includes making the most of the opportunities to continually improve the process, in timeliness, inefficiency, ineffectiveness, or all three. Conditional logic in a process means that different events or outcomes along the way can integrate seamlessly, without interrupting the flow of the process. An example of a process could be a sequence of checks on different parts of office security. Other examples include new client or employee onboarding, using a process to ensure proper coverage of all the bases each time.
Connections Between Tasks, Projects, and Processes
Tasks, projects, and processes are interrelated. For example, a project usually divides up into a sequence of individual tasks, each task having a set a date for accomplishment so that the overall deadline can be respected. A process can also be viewed as a sequence of tasks. However, compared with a project in which some tasks may only become known after the start, the possible tasks in a process are all identified in advance.
Also, although projects themselves are specific, you could have a repeatable process for initiating each project(for example, “always document the objectives, then identify the stakeholders, hold the first project definition meeting.” and so on.) Conversely, you could have a specific project to define the right process for handling a recurring activity or event, especially if the process is complex and involves several people. The initial task sequence definition would be done once (the project part), and the sequence of tasks thus defined would be repeated whenever required (the process.)
A Summary Guide to Task vs Project vs Process Management
For examples of how different software tools apply to task vs project vs process management, try this handy chart:
Task vs Project vs Process Management
|Task Management Application|
e.g. Todoist, Wunderlist
|Project Management Application |
e.g. Basecamp, Wrike
|Process Management Application|
|An example of use||“Pay invoice XYZ now.”||“Produce a new product design in two months from today.”||“Do this every time we win a sale, on-time and fill it out properly”|
|What it’s for||One-off tasks||One-off projects involving various stages and people, with ad hoc discussions.||Apply a known process to reliably give a certain result. No need to re-invent the wheel.|
|Critical features||Tasks and the ability to get them done||Project plan, schedule, budget, discussion, collaboration, tracking.||Create/track a process, collect metrics to improve a process.|
|Type of data generated||One-off tasks. Disposable data.||Noisy, one-off chats. Disposable or historical (“post-mortem”) data.||Sticky, high-value master data. Audit trail of activity.|
Low. Many individuals use pen and paper.
|Medium. Ensures multiple people can get a one-off goal more quickly.|
High. Ensures quality and consistency, as well as scalability of operations.
A little practice in fitting these concepts of the task, project, and process management to your own activities should soon show you which one(s) you need, and when. With Tallyfy, you could even define a preliminary process to systematically identify if you need to apply task, project or process management to a given situation or requirement. Using the conditional logic in Tallyfy to branch off in the appropriate direction, you could then be sure to make the right choice every time.