What’s the difference between workflow and project management?

As concepts, project management and workflow are similar and related concepts, but they’re not interchangeable. They’re not the same thing.

When I discuss workflow, I’m discussing the order or tasks required to reach a goal such as recording a song. Usually a workflow is short and general enough that it can be applied over and over again. For example, a workflow for a recording song might be used ten or twelve times for an album. It’s often a repeatable series of steps that has worked in the past and is likely to work in the future.

Workflow is extremely useful because it provides a degree of measurability and predictability to the production process. It allows you to determine how long it’ll take to complete a piece of work. It will help you schedule the work so that you have a high degree of confidence that it’ll be complete within the expected timeframe.

Project management, on the other hand, is about taking care of the bigger picture. I see it as two sets of activities:

  1. Planning and coordinating. This includes balancing cost and time requirements for different components of the project, recruiting and coordinating people, negotiating arrangements with partner businesses and tracking progress against the plan. Planning and coordinating needs to be done in full knowledge of the time and resource constraints of the project. This is the easy part.
  2. Responding to changes. All projects have hiccups. Humans are beautiful and messy and often unpredictable. Responding to changes can include activities that are primarily ‘mechanical’ – such as rebalancing resources, readjusting schedules and even changing the scope and outcomes of the project. It’s important to understand, however, that responding to changes often requires a human component too. Your artists and collaborators and partners are human beings and have feelings and desires and fears and you need to be mindful of this at all times. When plans change, people can feel hurt or disappointed. They might feel responsible (whether real or imagined). They probably have a different impression of you than you do of yourself – and the less you communicate the greater that difference will be.



  1. Hi Kim,

    I have never seen anyone confusing the two terms together. Usually project managers confuse workflows and processes.

  2. @PM Hut
    I’m writing a bit more these days about project management and workflow in the context of music production, and I thought it would be useful to describe what I mean when I use these terms. A lot of my readers are not experienced project managers and these concepts are relatively new.


    • Kronsteen
    • September 13th, 2011

    I’ve been thinking about workflows recently, and it occurs to me that a lot of us stick with the first workflow we find which gets a song finished, and resist looking for something better.

    So the obvious question is: What workflows are there to chose from? Different genres and studio setups obviously influence what options are available, but what in your opinion are the main general types of workflow?

    I appreciate this is a rather subjective question, but I’m having trouble figuring out how I’d answer it.

  3. @Kronsteen
    It really depends on what you want to achieve and how you want to express your creativity.

    Two common approaches are serial vs parallel. When working serially, each song is completed from start to finish one after the other. In other words, the previous song must be finished before the next one is started. The opposite approach is to work on the songs in parallel – all the songs progress from one stage to the next all together.

    I might explore some different types of workflows in a future blog post.


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