The Key To Lasting PM Processes

By Bob McGannon, PMP

As much as you want to be able to create and manage projects with repeatable processes, it seems that whenever a process is written, it never gets used more than once or twice. In fact, whenever any process is put in place in your environment, it never seems to last so those who are doing the work can capitalize on them. We embrace something for a very short time and then it is on to the next “big thing”.

Does this sound familiar to you? Putting project management processes in place (or any enduring processes for that matter) requires that some critical elements exist in your business environment, and that the right approach to the processes exist to ensure they will last longer than one or two uses. Like any good project, creating processes requires that a plan for development and implementation be put in place with well defined pre-requisites and guides for use of the product – in this case those valuable processes you want your organization to embrace. Here are the keys to successful creation and implementation of processes in an organization.

Buy-in and Positive Reinforcement from Management

First and foremost when deriving or implementing any process is management buy in. It is management that will direct the efforts of the people in the organization. Therefore, the behavior exhibited by the staff in an organization is mandated by the instructions given by their managers. If the processes being implemented aren’t part of that business direction, the process initiative is doomed from the start.

Getting that buy-in does not require any special magic – management needs to be involved in the derivation of the processes. A special point of focus for process derivation however is the “stage-gates” that will require management time and attention. These stage-gates (or go/no-go decisions) need to be implemented with the appropriate frequency and involve the appropriate managers. Too many stage-gates and the managers will reject the process as being too detailed – too few and it will be viewed as lacking the appropriate controls. Involving the appropriate managers can be very tricky as managers need to have control over their areas, with a minimum of “interference” from others. Processes can be perceived as “shifting control” from one area (or manager) to another. This perception can be real or imagined – but must be managed carefully if the proposed processes are to be embraced appropriately.

Once that buy-in is achieved, positive enforcement is the next critical step. Very good processes that are agreed to by management won’t be lasting unless they are incorporated into the reward and recognition system that is used to manage employees. The use, care of and embracing of the new processes must become a standard against which employee’s performance is evaluated. Without that, the processes are likely to be viewed as “bureaucracy” that is to be avoided.

Built-in Flexibility

It is very rare that a “one size fits all” process actually works throughout an organization or on every project. Creating processes that are appropriately flexible is paramount to success in having those processes become lasting in your environment. Examples of this flexibility include having less stringent process requirements for a small or short project, more process requirements for a medium size project, and full process requirements for a large and/or complex project. Standards with which to evaluate these size and complexity parameters would be mandatory to make this work.

The process designers also need to understand that a process cannot replace intelligence or experience. Processes should be intended to accelerate the rate at which an organization acquires, and therefore can apply, intelligence and experience by creating standards. The process should be based on principles, but not supercede those principles. Appropriate points need to be built into processes that allow for individuals to deviate from the processes – with a discussion of how that deviation will be discussed and agreed to so “conscious management decisions” are made prior to deviating from the prescribed process. Only with this flexibility and consideration for individual circumstances – a merging of process and principle – will any process set last in an organization.

A Maintenance Plan

It may sound like we are heading towards a bad joke – but the processes need a process to maintain them! Part of installing a process set should include periodic reviews of the processes, how they have strengthened the capabilities of the organization, and how they might be inhibiting progress or not serving stakeholders appropriately. Processes that aren’t maintained will be discarded, like any system or tool that is no longer useful. This maintenance process needs to have a data collection element, and an evaluation of when and why processes deviations occur – as discussed in the prior point. A process or process element that is regularly circumvented is a sign that it’s value is not being recognized, or its value is not really there!

The approach to maintaining processes is “there are no sacred cows”. Any and every process needs to be evaluated against its purpose and ability to satisfy that purpose. Rapidly changing business environments (and they are plentiful in today’s world) will cause some processes to need to be altered, and other processes to be added to maintain their vitality in the organization.

Tools and Standard Templates

Processes should describe the “what” in getting something accomplished. Examples, tools and templates allow the user to see “how” to satisfy the process requirement. Each deliverable described in a process should have a corresponding tool or template that describes what information is required, how it is compiled and displayed. Samples of each tool or template should be included as well to guide the process user. As with the processes themselves, the tools and templates must reflect a certain flexibility – mostly tied with the process, but sometimes in their own right. For example, your process may require that a certain document is produced – and an example of that document exists which corresponds to the process requirement. There may be data elements in that document that don’t apply because of the nature of a given project. Rather than create a very complicated process description, leave the flexibility in the template. Make some document fields optional, given certain circumstances and place these in the template instructions. It makes for a much easier process, and more usable tools and templates.

An Environment for “Appropriate Plagiarism”

There are few things more frustrating that a process that requires the user to “reinvent the wheel” every time the process is used. In conjunction with the tools and templates described above, a library of completed documents and process applications should be compiled and indexed in such a way so retrieval of past documents is easy and effective. The copying and altering of documents from past projects to apply to our current endeavor – which allows the process set to make us all more efficient and effective – will be the greatest catalyst to making processes last in your organization! An ongoing effort to maintain this library is vital to success in lasting process implementation initiatives.


Successful projects to implement lasting processes should include:
1. Management involvement to derive and confirm processes
2. A reward and recognition system to promote use of the new processes
3. An assessment of the flexibility incorporated as part of the processes
4. A process maintenance team (and process), with appropriate representation that is willing to change the processes as needed
5. Tools and templates to support the processes
6. A library of effective samples – to facilitate “copying from what served you well”.

Bob McGannon is a Founder and Principal of MINDAVATION, a company providing project management services, leadership workshops and team building programs throughout North America. Bob can be reached at MINDAVATION via the web at or by calling 866-888-MIND (6463).


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