Production Versus Project Thinking

We’ve observed two distinct types of thinking, the process mindset associated with producing many things requiring an understanding of volume, yield, and quality--and then a second thought process associated with projects; which have a start and finish and where something is created... when done the team moves on. However, with the former, the team stays and continuously improves it.

In a process world like manufacturing, the goal is to optimize. I call this a closed loop process. Once you get the end you start again and make it better the next time. This is the process of continuous improvement where the focus is to improve the process in order to improve the results. Each cycle of learning improves the efficiency of the system.

We’ll call the other way of thinking the “project mindset.” This is characterized by a clear start of the effort. Movement in this model is forward towards a defined end-state or goal. The project mind defines the route and then climbs the mountain, with the goal being the summit. Each camp along the way is a milestone by which to measure performance. They are either ahead or behind. It is a clear finite frame of mind.

What happens when the closed-loop, continuous process improvement people are faced with the challenge of having to create and manage something that has a beginning and an end? Conversely, what happens when the project people are asked to continuously improve a repeating process?

The same thought process, methods, and tools can’t be used for both problems.