The Power of Process: How Bad Project Management Kills Great Ideas
November 19, 2010 ‐ 4 comments



We suppose it’s not only a lesson from Business 101 but from Life 101: Only move on to the next step when the previous step is complete. A maxim of Aurelian sophistication it ain’t, but how many inspired ideas have you had to relegate to the cutting room floor and how much time has your organization wasted because of a failure to adhere to it?

Here’s how it tends to happen:

  1. Core team in charge of solving problem defines parameters and begins work.
  2. Potential solutions to problem hypothecated.
  3. Broader decision-making team consulted for input.
  4. Refinements made, brilliant solution identified and recommendation presented to broader team.
  5. Member of broader team who missed first meeting provides new, contradictory input.
  6. Refinements made, somewhat less brilliant solution developed and approved by broader team.
  7. Core team begins operationalizing solution in order to meet aggressive timeline.
  8. Solution presented to senior executive: a mere formality according to broader team.
  9. Senior executive whose time was far too valuable to involve in the initial process is underwhelmed by solution – especially when compared to those posited by significant others, tennis partners and themselves; provides new data that changes problem’s parameters; turns out to be actual decision-maker.
  10. Organization engages in several rounds of all-hands meetings, early-morning conference calls, late-night emails and general all-around inefficiency to develop, get approval on and begin operationalizing new, decidedly mediocre solution.

In our experience (yes, even the mighty BrandCulture Company has made a few rookie mistakes), this dysfunctional workflow is usually not the result of pure ineptitude – it’s the product of best intentions. People and teams tasked with solving problems usually want to do so quickly and cost-effectively. When the schedules, availabilities and responsiveness of more senior stakeholders threaten to slow progress, they often proceed anyway – optimistic that everyone will recognize a great solution in the end.

But everyone doesn’t simply recognize great solutions for two reasons:

  1. Senior stakeholders may possess information that is critical to solving the problem, or that they believe to be critical. If that information isn’t addressed, the stakeholders are unlikely to be supportive.
  2. All people like to be heard. If they haven’t had a chance to weigh in on a process early, they’re rarely hesitant to do so at the end.

Here’s what we tell ourselves whenever a client asks us to help them solve a problem:

  1. Let's find out who the real decision-makers are.
  2. Let's make sure those decision-makers can participate in at least one initial briefing and one round of feedback on progress.
  3. Let's not present any recommended solutions until we've had these briefing and feedback sessions with all key decision-makers.

While it looks so simple and obvious on the screen, it isn’t easy to adhere to when schedules are tight and the demands on peoples’ time are many. But when we’ve done so successfully we’ve found it not only increases our chances of producing great work – it helps us work more efficiently as well.

Tell your friends:
PM Hut
February 7, 2012 4:51 am
Hi, Many project managers think that they must follow the process "as-is" in order to guarantee project success. The problem though, is doing PM just for the sake PM is the worst thing that any Project Manager can do, and can really destroy innovation (we've published something similar here). I am sure PM Hut readers will really enjoy your post, and that's why I would like to republish it on PM Hut. Please either email me or contact me through the contact us form on the PM Hut site if you're OK with this.
An agile approach to innovation in a small company « The Mac Daddy
February 6, 2012 2:39 am
[...] this as a general work management process, just an ideas/ancillary objectives process. Remember, bad management kills great ideas and worse this kind of management intervention stifles bad ideas, which are necessary and [...]
Bruce Hungate
November 20, 2010 6:56 am
This describes project management and decision-making in universities and government as well. Though in these cultures, perhaps even more pervasive are working groups struggling to find solutions to problems when the final decision's already been made - all for maintaining the appearance of shared governance.
Tweets that mention The Power of Process: How Bad Project Management Kills Great Ideas --
November 19, 2010 1:47 pm
[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kevin Curry, Eric Pinckert. Eric Pinckert said: The Power of Process: How Bad Project Management Kills Great Ideas: We suppose it’s not only a lesson from Busin... [...]

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