Project Management Vs. Workflow Management And Why Your Team Needs Both

Have you ever completed a project and, even though it was successful, you just didn’t feel satisfied? The end result was what you wanted, but the process of getting there was so complicated, exhausting, and downright fraught that you couldn’t take pleasure in a job well done.

That feeling of dissatisfaction is a red flag that you and your team (and maybe your entire organization) are laboring under an “end justifies the means” mentality, where it doesn’t matter how the work gets done, as long as it does. It’s a dysfunctional way to work and one that isn’t sustainable over the long term. Those positive outcomes become more and more costly in terms of productivity, employee bandwidth and morale. Eventually, when you neglect your process long enough, the end product begins to suffer as well, affecting your clients or customers. It’s a little like cleaning up your house if you know visitors are coming. Sure, you could shove everything in a closet and the place could look tidy, but as soon as you open the closet door, all the mess you tried to hide comes tumbling out.

To be effective, your team needs to be managing both projects and the workflows that power them. So how do you tell the difference between project management and workflow management? This will vary by team and the nature of your work, but in general:

Project management involves:

  • Allocating resources
  • Defining project requirements
  • Executing project plans
  • Implementing PM methods like Agile or Waterfall
  • Managing client behaviors
  • Controlling project complexity
  • Making space for creativity and collaboration

Workflow management involves:

  • Defining project teams & roles
  • Managing timelines
  • Controlling costs
  • Developing SOPs
  • Mapping processes by project type or deliverable
  • Managing reviews & approvals

Where teams get off track is neglecting to account for the fact that there’s the work that needs to get done (the projects) and then there’s how that work gets done (the process) and not understanding that a truly useful project management solution needs to address both. Instead, they adopt and invest in tools or systems to assign and manage tasks and track time, but that aren’t built to accommodate the flexible workflow management that creative production work demands. This results in the ‘good work executed in a bad way’ scenario described above. Everyone is frustrated, exhausted and ends up dreading the next project kick-off like a trip to the dentist.

Breaking free of the “end justifies the means” trap means understanding you need to integrate managing projects and managing workflow processes for optimal results. From there, you’ll want to look for a tool that puts the power in your hands to configure a process and platform that works the way you work. Ultimately, creative work is hybrid work. The strategy, ideation, execution, production, and adaptation phases of the work each may require a unique process, approach, and team. Don’t settle for a system that forces you to choose between setting up a rigidly linear sequence of stages or opting for a series of disconnected ad hoc tasks, locking you into project-only focus that neglects process.

Delivering high-quality creative output doesn’t need to be painful or chaotic, but it does require you to prioritize the journey to get to an amazing end result as much as end result itself.