Is our obsession with processes eroding our ability to think?
There should be no doubt that attention to detail and taking a systematic approach to managing projects is a vital skill to being successful with projects. On the other hand, a consequence with an obsession to this line of thinking is the danger you run into where the process or methodology takes such precedence, that project managers stop thinking critical and creatively to solve problems and attempt to see what they must do in relation to where they are within a given process or methodology. As exemplified by a quote taken from an interview with Elon Musk in Wired magazine:
Now I have to tell you something, and I mean this in the best and most inoffensive way possible: I don’t believe in process. In fact, when I interview a potential employee and he or she says that ‘it’s all about the process,’ I see that as a bad sign… The problem is that at a lot of big companies, process becomes a substitute for thinking. You’re encouraged to behave like a little gear in a complex machine. Frankly, it allows you to keep people who aren’t that smart, who aren’t that creative.
Let’s face it, the real rationale why organizations obsesses with process is that it is a nice linear pathway that’s easiest to explain to someone who needs to manage a project to say in effect, “all you have to do is follow the path and your project will succeed.” Of course there’s a multiplicity of factors such as the leadership abilities of the individual tasked with managing the project, how well that organization does at providing mentoring, training and guidance as well as whether the organization is mature enough and agrees to be both an advocate for the process and flexible when needed not to always follow it in special cases.
But the real danger of course, is that an over reliance on it drags down and stifles creative, critical and innovative thinking for top performing project managers. The world has become much more complex and fast-paced which requires even task and process driven PMs to think on their feet and and come up with novel and innovative solutions so that their teams can get through bottlenecks. Its not just about driving the project forward by following the process from start to end, but being empathetic to and deeply understanding of the team dynamics at play so you know when to apply a strict adherence to process and when to circumvent it (yes, you heard me correctly, we all have to circumvent it at times but know when to do so appropriately and when special circumstances require it).
Bottom line is that we should view process as a guide map, but not be so enamored by it that we forget that it is humans, each with their own unique talents and leadership styles, that manage projects and we should encourage not hinder them to utilize their best talents to creatively and critically manage and lead their projects.