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Theory 2P – Understanding Work

Theory-2P Theory 2P of Work
Work is where rubber meets the road. In a world bound by time, we do all work through a sequence of activity. Some sequences have a definite beginning and end. They are projects. Others repeat a known past, which makes them cyclic processes. There is no other way. Work is either a project or a process. Processes help us to perfect what we did yesterday. Projects help us to do what we have never done before. Theory 2P describes the phenomena of work.

The basic assumption behind Theory 2P of work

If work is either repetitive or non-repetitive, then their rules will differ, because one will repeat a known past whilst the other will engage with an unknown future. This is the difference between projects and processes.

In Theory 2P, the "2P" shows the two ways through which Org can do its work. They are projects and processes. All the work of Org is thus either project- or process- based. Processes drive performance, whilst projects ensure relevance.

The difference between a project and a process

Projects are non-repetitive because they have a clear end. Processes are repetitive because they cycle with no aim to end. Yet, it is hard to distinct one from the other. A myriad of processes makes a project. Contrarywise, there are a lot of things within a process that ends.

The best way to distinct the two is through Hypothesis 2x. Processes are receptive in that they use the past to deliver outputs. Efficiency thus drives them. The process motto is "repeat yesterday with perfection today". Projects are projective in that they drive future effect. The project motto is "be bold and do what you have never done before".

Processes induce performance, whilst projects ensure relevance. Through their duality they define work. For instance, designing a house is a project to the architect. Yet, he uses a design process to do this. The idea of the design is projective whilst the process of design is receptive. In that, the process of design submits to the idea of the design. Also, the process of design is more permanent than the idea of the design. The idea needs leadership since it must have a sponsored effect. It must be negotiated. The design needs management since it must be efficient. It must be communicated.

Activity must relate to other activity to create a process. The complexity of these relations will depend on the intelligence that Org holds. In that way, one can see the world as an interdependent system of complex process relations. In some way, everything links to a process. Therefore, all projects and procedures are processes. Yet not all processes are projects or procedures. In orgamatics, we refer to activity that cycle as a process. Things that end are projects.

The Difference between Processes and Projects

What must a process do?

Processes aim to empower performance. Org performs when it delivers outputs in an efficient way. Repetition moulds efficiency. Evolution happens when we learn from repetition. To learn we must notice the repetition within repetition. This means that we must grasp the processes within a process. One way to do this, is to create process families. We do this by linking parent to child processes. Processes thus create a family structure, which becomes the process construct of Org.

Coca Cola have been making their money from the same formula for more than 130-years now. The Rolling Stones have been singing the same songs for more than 50-years. The Roman Catholic Church still wear the robes designed more than a thousand years ago. McDonalds have launched many novel menu items, but still follow their original workflow. Change in these organisations are slow and evolutionary. It is because they all have a well-defined process construct that works. This is the power of process.

A process will infinitely aim to increase its own relevance. Its endeavour is to repeat without end; thus, you can never complete it. Its need is to survive. This is the essence of evolution.

Process Metrics

What must a project do?

Projects aim to keep Org relevant. It changes things, and therefore, it is revolutionary. Unlike the empowering nature of processes, projects aim to influence. It thus has a revolutionary nature.

Projects have one of three goals. That is to begin, end, or fix a process. To survive, a project must relate to one or more processes. This makes their construct complex. As with processes, we can subdivide a project into smaller projects. In consulting we call the overriding project a programme. This is quite simple to understand since each activity within a programme is a project. Therefore, projects also create a construct. Each programme with its sub-projects create a project construct. The difference is that every project construct must link to a process. The task of a project construct is to pollinate the process construct. In that, projects keep processes relevant. This is also the relationship between strategy and operations.

Project Metrics

Can one measure processes and projects in the same way?

Process targets measure the ability of a process, at a specific point and time. Examples are:

  • Handing in of a report during a specific month of every quarter.
  • Repeating an X amount of process cycles.
  • Sales turnover.
  • Auditing of books.
  • Etc.

Such targets give the illusion of completion. We measure how much of something we did at a point in time. In so, targets ensure a successful cycle. Mostly, the quantification of process-targets will change from year to year. The aim is to better performance of the same activity. Therefore, the qualification of process targets stays the same. E.g., "Deliver 300 boxes by 31 March 2019" might become 350 boxes in 2020. But we will still deliver boxes.

It is difficult to grasp the idea that process targets show ability and not completion. Sometime back, I watched a television show, about the life journey of five young lion cubs. It was interesting to see the way in which their mother taught them to hunt. In the beginning, she would show them how to catch small animals, like lizards and mice. As they grew older, they would hunt larger prey, such as rabbits and small antelope. Later, they would hunt Impala and Zebra. As full-grown lions, I saw how they hunted a Buffalo cow. What struck me most, was that the process of hunting did not change in any way. What did change, was their ability, and in so their efficiency. It would take hundreds of lizards and mice to feed a few lions, but one buffalo could feed a whole pride. From this, I learned that a process target does not show completion, but ability. The point is to increase ability, without adding action or resources. That is the essence of efficiency.

Project targets are different. They show completion. In projects, each activity is also a target. We never repeat them. We measure project success on how we did things. E.g. cost; quality; and time. We cannot improve a project outcome since we will never do it again. E.g., contractors might build one road after the other. In that they will have efficiency targets that show their ability. But the road is a final project. Its maintenance will become a process. Its demolition and rebuilding will be another project. Therefore, we do not measure process outputs and project outcomes in the same way. I explain how to create process and project targets in other posts.

Theory 2P and the shape of time

Time within a process does not have the same meaning as time within a project. In a process, time cycles. The moment repeats itself, thus the present moment defines time. This is how our world works. Energy cycles, and in doing so, it continually takes a new form. The form will change, but the energy will always return to its original state. In a project, time is linear. Here a goal defines time. Where we achieve the goal, the project stops, and time ends. In processes, time creates content and gives certainty. In projects, time creates finality.

People who work with projects, and thus with the future, earn more than those who do repetitive work. This is because the stress and uncertainty are much more in project-based work.

Theory 2P and inverse duality 

The processes and projects within Org all draw from the same resource pool. That makes their relationship inverse. One consequence of this, is the impact on risk. In projects you engage with an unknown future, which is a risky business. Unlike that, processes repeat the past, which does not hold much risk. In other words, the amount of project-based work within Org will create a risk appetite. This is inverse duality at work. The more change you want, the higher your appetite for risk, and vice versa.

This is one reason new business ventures have such a high infant mortality rate. Any new venture is by default, project based. In so, buying a franchise will reduce risk. The implied processes and brand of a franchise will allow Org to perform without delay.

The goal of any project is to end. In that way it can return resources to a process. The goal of any process is to continue its cycle. In becoming irrelevant, a project makes a process more relevant. Projects and processes do not have a linear relationship. They co-exist through duality.

Their Order / Disorder relationship

We need projects to deal with disorder. As soon as we create order, processes take back their reign. E.g., during a caesarean delivery, there is no person in charge. A gynaecologist will cut through the abdomen into the womb to remove the baby from its mother's womb. An assistant doctor will pass the scalpels. A paediatrician will attend to the new-born child. This enables a paediatrician to close the wound. An anaesthetist will make sure that the patient wakes up. Processes will run this until there is a problem. For instance, if the patient begins to bleed, a project starts. This is a call for leadership. This new chaos will need command and control. When the bleeding stops, the project will end. All will then submit back to the process of a caesarean delivery. Projects must die so that processes can live.

The Process / Project ratio

The process / project ratio will depend on the disorder that Org must face. An environment that is hostile and competitive will demand a high project focus. One can always deal with internal risks through process efficiency. Yet, this will make no change to external risks. E.g., if you have a sugar cane farm, you can control your efficiency. Yet, efficiency will not change the price of sugar or negativity towards its use.

To deal with external threats, one will need disruptive innovation. This is project-based work. External threats need leadership; thus, leaders are people who can deal with projects. Internal threats need management; therefore, managers are people who can deal with processes.

As rule of thumb, processes must outweigh projects. I suggest a ratio of 60% + process work and 40%- of project work. Finding the best ratio is your task.


Leaders have the task to keep Org relevant. Thus, leaders drive project-based work. Managers enable the performance of Org. Thus, managers empower process-based work. The higher you go up in the ranks, the more project-based your work will become. The lower you are in the hierarchy, the more process-based your work is.

Unfortunately, few can exclusively be one or the other. We are mostly a bit of both. Part of your work will need leadership, and other parts will need management. This makes Theory 2P crucial to the understanding of work.

Empowering Executive Teams Worldwide


© 2019-09-14: CFT Hendrikz

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