This blog was originally published on Nelson Project Consulting.

Henry Ford, the creator of the assembly line, is quoted as saying “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”.

One of the more often heard definitions of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”.

What do those two thoughts have to do with project management? Isn’t project management about standardization and processes?

Well, yes and no.

The mechanics of project management are essentially unchanging – building a business case, putting together an estimate and a budget, allocating resources, establishing a schedule, monitoring progress, etc. All of those things follow the same path of progression, and they all can be done in roughly the same way.

It’s that ‘roughly’ part that throws most though. While these processes can be standardized to an extent, they’re not written in stone. And that’s where the problems come in. All too often we find Project Managers and/or organizations that confuse ‘good practice’ with ‘the’ practice. They confuse ‘a’ process with ‘the’ process. And once the process is decided upon, they’re reluctant to change anything.

This is a mistake. Project management isn’t a rigid discipline, it’s a management science. Which means that it’s open to change and modification. It’s open to doing what works. PMI’s Guide to the Project Managment Body of Knowledge (PMBoK Guide), the de facto global standard for project management, states in the first chapter that it’s the Project Manager, the project team, and the needs of the specific project that ultimately determine which processes, and in what way, get used on the project. this means that for every project the team should be reviewing and evaluating processes for applicability, not simply taking whatever was used last time to the new project.

Even more, if you’re following ‘best practices’, each phase of the project would be ending with a Lessons Learned/Retrospective review and those lessons documented. Those ‘lessons’ should be tweaking your processes for each successive project. In this way, no pm process or method should ever be static, it should always be in a state of flux, or continuous improvement.

So for the sake of project success, let’s forget about the ‘we’ve alway’s done it this way’ mentality, or ‘we have our processes’. Processes are good, necessary even. But not static one. Processes are meant to be improved.

That’s the only way to avoid ‘always getting what you’ve always got’.

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