The Process Inperative – How much is enough?


The word is both revered and reviled within the corporate realm. And rightly so. Lack of an effective process can lead to organizations functioning in haphazard and often inefficient ways. Conversely, a bad process of an overly intrusive and heavily regimental structure can often lead to scenarios whereby individual contributors and management alike spend far more time on bureaucracy and paper pushing then they do on actual work.

With that being said, it begs the question: how much process is enough and when is that threshold crossed when process becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and is treated more like dogma then an actual benefit?

Needless to say, this is not an easy question to answer. Beyond just the notion of a process within any project or program (being either considered or in progress), debates can often ensue between disparate parties involved in said projects who often have widely different and periodically caustic views of any sort of process.

So what is a project/program manager to do? To start with, I think it is safe to say, from a project or program manager’s perspective, is that some form of process is better than no process at all. A complete lack of process is invariably going to lead to disparate ways of thinking within a project team. And without some level of consistency, timetables, product milestones & iterations and general day-to-day activities will often be difficult to manage. Team members who adhere to a more ad hoc process that is non-uniform will eventually end up being self siloed.

With that being said, a good way to approach any project scenario is to first evaluate the process in place. Also, catalog the effeciency of the team and their ability to meet milestones and deadlines. Some questions to ask yourself as a project manager might be:

  • Is the team fairly self-managing?
  • Do they already function well and can they colloborate with minimal intervention?
  • Do they have some opinions on any types of processes, whether in place or not, and what are their feelings on their usage?

I think one of the biggest mistakes that many project and program manager’s make is they often have a canned set of ideas of what the ‘ideal’ process is. Whether that be waterfall, agile, extreme programming, six sigma, or some combinations thereof. And this can lead to a type of tunnel vision where they approach a project in a myopic fashion, not really evaluating all the variables. This can also lead to a breakdown of trust between the project team and the project manager. Any overly aggressive methodology that is treated as doctrine by the PM is often going to receive trememdous pushback.

So ultimately, how should this problem be approached? It may sound like a cliche, but the best method is an open mind. Take time to evaluate all the parameters of the team dynamics, their inherent corporate culture and their work style. Determine what things are working from a process perspective and what things are not. Be receptive and be engaging with the team members. More often than not, they will often be aware of where the difficiencies in their process reside. And so long as you don’t take a Draconian approach with enforcement, you will often find that a slow transition into the process inperative will often yield surprising results for the team.