I just do it – why do I need any processes for my projects?

I had an interesting experience recently running a project management course for a group of staff. I asked the group what issues they faced in running their projects. A range of problems were raised:

  1. legislation not yet in place but the project still needing to be planned and have a risk assessment!!
  2. key people leaving
  3. lack of specific resources including IT systems that are up to date

These are a few of the points raised. We then started to talk about how to increase the probability of project success by having some common processes to deliver. Then came the following words:

“I don’t have any processes to deliver my projects. I just do it. I just wing it; I’m not a natural template filler.”

I don't need any processes thank you

I had a battle on my hands.

Throughout the 2 day course she kept referring to winging it. I kept to the script (broken record technique) and said that I was training the group to use the internal project management approach which is based on best practice.

Around 3.30 on day two I delivered a very detailed summary of what we had covered so far. I then asked the individual who liked winging it how she viewed the overall application to her projects.

“I’m convinced. It is not going to be easy to put it into practice but I’m convinced.” I was clearly pleased and asked her what had convinced her. She suggested that I had stuck to the script. She was mostly convinced though by the some of the vociferous comments by others suggesting that those projects that had been successful within the organisation were ones that followed the internal project management approach. Several examples of projects were cited and she was convinced.

She agreed to work with another person on the course to mutually help each other deliver projects.

So what can we learn from this?

  • the messages must always be on target and repeated – if you say it loud enough and long enough people will hear you
  • you need internal allies to support change – the allies on the course really helped in getting this person (a senior manager) to recognise that just do it was not an option
  • for project management to be successful, you need an internal project management approach, well communicated and well used
  • you need training to get people to try out new skills and to get them to communicate it to others

Just do it – not an option. Project management needs rigour, process and people. This person admitted she flew by the seat of her pants and her personal organisation skills got in the way of these.

Who do you know who just does it or just wings it? What help do they need?


Picture by: Sujin Jetkasettakorn:

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11 Responses to I just do it – why do I need any processes for my projects?

  1. Luke W says:

    I mean on the one hand it’s shocking that someone had not only no processes, but actual disregard for actual processes, but on the other- if she was being consistently successful and delivering with her approach of ‘just winging it’ – where’s the problem?

    Playing devil’s advocate slightly but would be interested to hear your response.

    Luke W
    Community Manager

    • Ron Rosenhead says:

      Intersting cooment; thanks Luke.

      A couple of points:

      1) She was a manager of I think 8 staff so one thing that struck me was the impression/example given by her staff. On the course….

      2) You say: “but on the other- if she was being consistently successful and delivering with her approach of ‘just winging it’ where’s the problem?” My impression and yes, it is an impression, was that there were a number of problems with some projects. I cannot be more specific as I am making some assumptions however what came across to me was that the whole group needed process to help them increase the probability of project success.

      I have checked some of the issues they raise and yes, they would all benefit from the application of some simple project management processes e.g. lack of stakeholder management, little or no risk management, project plans that were effectively lists, no business cases, poor change control (in fact no change control)

      I think you raise an interesting question however for me the issue of the impression she gave, the leadership – or lack of it – is a worry. Leaders need to set standards and in project management there are some very clear ones. Not in this case!

      Thanks for the comments Luke.

  2. Tony Bruce says:

    Hi Ron,

    Thanks for the blog post, I think I understand the intent although I’m not sure I agree 100% with what you have written.

    It comes across as if this is a cookie cutter approach for all projects and it seems to me this would only work effectively if all projects were the same.

    Would it be useful to have (adaptable) good habits? Would being be adaptable and ready to absorb change (and therefore respond to business needs, market changes etc) increase probability of project success?

    Would a project that followed processes to the letter (as much as possible) and was completed on time still be considered a successful project if it was no longer needed as the situation had changed?

    Just a few thoughts running through my head.


    Tony Bruce

    • Ron Rosenhead says:

      Tony, thanks for the comments.

      The training was designed to give them knowledge of the internal project management approach while developing their skills. One size clearly does not fit all and the training and the approach they have internally showed this.

      The internal approach and the training is guidance in increasing the probability of project management success. Key word; guidance…not set in tablets of stone (your word adaptable?).

      If something changes you have to react to it. I emphasise this to everyone on my courses. It’s your choice; loose approach or using change control principles.

      You raise a good point:

      Would a project that followed processes to the letter (as much as possible) and was completed on time still be considered a successful project if it was no longer needed as the situation had changed?

      A project needs reviews, checkpoint – call them what you want. If a project is no longer needed this should come out in any reviews that are held. An area where a lot of companies need to strengthen their approach.

      Thanks Tony, let’s continue the debate!


  3. Deanne Earle says:

    Hi Ron
    The Senior Manager in your post certainly showed a willingness and open mind with regards learning. She clearly listened to the arguments and examples given by the other attendees, your expert delivery of the training, and could see the benefits the internal process would bring. Maybe she’d never had this opportunity before (benefit of the doubt?) and just needed some context of purpose in order to understand.

    As Tony and you have already discussed, it’s important to remain flexible and adaptable. Process is there to provide structure and guidance. When process becomes the focal point bureaucracy ensues and the purpose of the project is lost amongst reports, checklists, meetings and gates. Process has its place and those using it need to recognise when and how to apply it to deliver the greatest benefit.


    • Ron Rosenhead says:

      Thanks Deanne for your comments.

      I’m pleased to say that she did listen however I think the real influencers were her colleagues which is often the case. I simply set the scene.

      Interestingly, I took out from my reply to Tony that I have been accused of being too bureaucratic Anyone who really knows me will testify to my hatred of over prescription – to sticking to a script that is not working or wrong for the situation. So for me, you and tony are both right – we need to have a process that moulds to the situation. The process is a guide…

      Cheers Deanne. Hope you are still basking in Italy’s win on Saturday.

  4. Gina Abudi says:

    Interesting. I have worked (and am working with one now) a number of clients who tell me they don’t need/have no processes as they do just fine. I always tell them they do have processes or they wouldn’t get anything done. They just aren’t written down and may need to be fine tuned.

    Thanks for sharing this story!

    Best regards,

  5. Tony Bruce says:

    Hi Ron,

    The set in stone/focal point bureaucracy is one of the reasons I stay away from processes and suggest good habits.
    It is a lot harder to have bureaucracy around a habit and the goal of guidance is still there.

    I do have to query what this person meant by winging it. I doubt she flipped a coin and would prefer to believe that she actually just meant she had it in her head by way of knowledge and experience and perhaps some kind/s of mental heuristics.

    Essentially did the processes in her head and avoided the bureaucracy



    • Ron Rosenhead says:

      Tony, you have an excellent way of expressing process; good habits! Like it – will use this in future. Thanks for that.

      As to what she meant; she expressed it as a lack of good habits. She did not follow any specific habits – more dipped in and out. Your question; a very good one, makes me wonder whether these habits were good though i have some doubts based on what she said during the 2 days.

      Great contribution; habits …I like!!

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