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What do we mean by Project Management Processes? What are they made up of? What are its different types and categories? How they relate to Project Management Process Groups and Project Management Knowledge Areas?

Every project is meant to achieve some objectives which are based on needs and requirements of stakeholders.

To achieve the objectives, a number of activities are performed.

When you apply knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to activities of a project so that you meet the requirements of the project, you are engaged in project management. To be able to do so, you need to effectively apply and manage appropriate processes. (Page 5)

What do we mean by a Process?

The PMBOK® Guide defines a process as ‘a set of interrelated actions and activities performed to achieve a pre-specified product, results or services‘ (Page 47).

It is clear from this definition that:

  • process is made up of two or more actions and activities
  • All the activities making up a process have a common purpose to achieve something, usually a deliverable(s) – project management, product, service, or result.
  • All the activities in a process are interrelated – by the nature of work and/or the order in which they are performed.

In simple words, when we group together interrelated activities, we get a process. And as

What is an Activity?

Before we get into discussion on characteristics of a process, let us first have a look at what an ‘activity’ is. defines activities as the smallest unit of work in the context of project management. Similarly, PMBOK® Guide defines it as ‘a distinct, scheduled portion of work performed during the course of a project’ (Page 526). In other words, we can say that an activity is a smallest and distinct unit of work.

Some of important characteristics of an ‘activity’ are as follows:
  • Every activity consumes time; it has a specific start and an end; it has has a definite duration.
  • Activities are interrelated, are linked, and have logical relationships with each other. Most of the time this interrelationship between activities is based on nature of work and step-by-step order in which they are performed.
  • Activities consume resources and as such, they have costs associated with them.

Categorization of Project Work at Different Levels
To sum it up, a project is made up of ‘a set of interrelated actions and activities‘ where as activities are ‘distinct … portion of work’.  In other words, a project is nothing else than work of certain magnitude to be done. The work at its smallest and distinct is called an activity. At a bit higher level, the work becomes organized as processes which are made up of related activities. 

What are some of the Characteristics of a Process?
Based on our discussion above, let’s have a look at some of the important characteristics of a process as follows:

  • Every process comprises of actions and activities, the smallest unit or component of work.
  • The actions and activities in a process are interrelated.
  • Outputs: Every process has outputs; it is meant to achieve something which is usually in the form of deliverable(s). These deliverables might be the ones that you might need to manage your project or some aspect of it, or they might be the ones that the project is required to deliver.
  • Inputs: Every process has inputs. These are the things that you would need to carry out a process in order to deliver the required output.
  • Tools and Techniques: Through application of a set of proven tools and techniques, the inputs are transformed into outputs.
  • Every process consumes resources and has costs associated with it.

What are different Categories of Processes?
All the activities that are performed on a project can be categorized broadly into two types. The first type includes activities that are performed to deliver product, service or result of the project. The second type includes activities that are performed to manage a project, and not to deliver product, service or result of the project.

The two types of activities are different on the basis of nature of work, but are crucial to success of a project.

Similarly, all processes of a project also falls into two categories – product, service or result oriented processes (required for the creation or development of product, service or result of the project) and project management processes (required to cover management aspect of a project over its life).

The 47 processes described by the PMBOK® Guide are project management processes. These processes are meant to ‘ensure the effective flow of project through its existence’ (Page 47).

What do we mean by Product-Oriented Processes?
The product-oriented processes vary over application areas; processes required to construct a building differ from processes required to develop application software. These processes are determined by life cycle of a project. It is because of this variation over application areas or industries that the product-oriented processes are declared as outside the scope of the PMBOK® Guide. However, understanding of the product-oriented processes, by Project Manager, is important for success of project.

What do we mean by Project Management Processes?
On the other hand, project management processes, by their nature, apply to ‘most projects most of the time across many types of industries’ (Page 48). Project management processes are building blocks of the PMBOK® Guide. 

What are Project Management Process Groups?
On the basis of nature of work and flow of processes across the life of a project or a phase, project management processes are logically grouped in to five process groups – Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing. This is another level at which we see the concept of ‘interrelationship’ playing its role. Related (based on flow) project management processes group together to make project management process groups. 

Once again, I would like to point out that activities, project management processes and project management process groups are there just to categorize the work of a project. And this categorization is basically meant to manage the work of the project effectively and efficiently.

I hope that the statement ‘project management is accomplished through appropriate application and integration of the 47 logically grouped project management processes, which are categorized into five five process groups’ (Page 5) would be making sense now.

Note: All the references are to the PMBOK® Guide, Fifth Edition.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at 

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