The Dynamic Tension of SME, Project Management and Process Management

By Marcus Carr, Director of Projects, Closed Loop Consulting

Many consultancies claim that their strength is in specialisation, but what initially may appear as success often results in substandard outcomes when viewed from a wider perspective. This is rarely more apparent than when the disciplines of Subject Matter Expertise (SME), Project Management and Process Management are approached individually.

As these disciplines may mean different things to different people, a definition of how they’re used here is probably warranted. Process Management is the act of planning and moitoring the performance of processes. Some might call that Programme Management, but that’s typically applied to a portfolio of projects, whereas Process Management crosses only the developmental stages within a single project. Process Management is the design – the skeleton of the project plan, if you will.

Given that, Project Management ensures the cost- and time-efficient delivery of the scope and benefits, while maintaining high quality and minimal risk. Project management sees the plan developed into tangible outcomes.

The SME often assists with the development of the project plan and also plays a role in the execution of the packages of work that result in the products or benefits. The SME requires the vision of how the organisation needs to change, but need not be expert in arranging the steps to make it happen efficiently.

On the face of it, it seems reasonable to regard these disciplines as being different enough from each other to merit engaging three disparate specialists. However, experience shows that if they’re out of resonance, considerable problems may result. While all three are critical to project success in their own rights, if they’re incorrectly coordinated they will get in each other’s way. To illustrate this, let’s examine each of the dependancies:

SME on Project Management – no matter how well the organisation is understood or how clearly the vision is for the desired state of being, unless it can be implemented well the project stands a chance of failure. Project Management provides direction to SME, helping it to be focused and efficient. This dependancy is far stronger than many people realise – SME unconstrained can erode projects over time. This typically occurs when the SME is part of the airline and Project Management is the responsibility of the integrator.

Project Management on SME – clearly, without guidance the Project Manager has nothing to manage. It’s advantageous for the Project Manager to have some understanding of the SME, but ultimately the SME has to design the change and the Project Manager has to ensure that it is implemented efficiently while managing the scope, risk, time and quality aspects in a way that will deliver the anticipated benefits. As projects never roll out exactly as they were originally envisioned, the Project Manager must have unfettered access to the SME for this dynamism to be controlled.

SME on Process Management – the design for the desired state of being involves Process Management. Without processes, there is no design. No matter how good the design, project Boards almost always wish to explore alternatives. This is a healthy process, capable of catering to unique characteristics of the way the airline operates. The SME can use Process Management to elegantly represent the original design, explore alternates and ultimately, to quantify the correctness of the design.

Process Management on SME – just as the Project Management relies heavily on the SME, so too does Process Management. It would be folly to attempt to streamline processes without the input of the SME, as unless the changes can be traced to the business case in the design, they put the benefits at least at risk.

Project Management on Process Management – projects evolve over the life of their implementation, or at least need the capacity to if they’re to remain healthy. Process Management is about finding the most efficient path between two points and this can often simplify the implementation. Proactive Process Management often involves identifying commonality and providing that information to the Project Manager to consider whether leveraging or streamlining is possible.

Process Management on Project Management – as much as it may be desirable for the project to evolve during implementation, the realities of budgets and deadlines mean that change has to be manageable within the constraints of the project.

Unless you can find fault with one or more of the dependencies above, it’s reasonable to conclude that each of the disciplines is critical to the success of the other two and the overall health of the project. Given that, dynamics emerge that are often not afforded sufficient consideration in projects. These include friction between the disciplines, communication, agility, consequence of change, etc.

Think back to a difficult project. Chances are that some of the problems previously attributed to personality clashes, insufficient oversight or unsympathetic project partners might actually have been due to disharmony between disciplines. Recognising it as such can be very useful, as it is a treatable malaise. Once you’re adept at recognising it, you’ll reaslise that it’s also very preventable. Manage the disciplines and the problems will take care of themselves.