Process paralysis




Project management methodologies can be an emotional topic among project stakeholders. Consider the following question: Do you believe the project management methodologies and processes promoted in your organization are too bureaucratic, inefficient, inflexible and often don't yield a sufficient ROI? I've asked this question to thousands of people, and somewhere between one-half and two-thirds have responded “yes.”

Ouch! What's a leader to do? Here are some common causes of process paralysis—and ways to fix them:

Bureaucratic and Inefficient Methodologies

Structure and discipline on a project is a good thing. But no project management methodology satisfies all the needs of all its users. Project managers must tailor the methodology to fit the project's business needs. Be careful, however, to understand the bigger picture. Look beyond your immediate interests to see how what you dismiss as a “bureaucratic” process may benefit other areas of the organization.


If you can't deviate from the methodology without proper approval, then make your case. Play by the rules, but be persistent if you believe you have a better way that will benefit the business.

Incomplete Methodology

If a specific process you need hasn't been well-defined or implemented, one option is to go to the perceived owner of the problem and try to convince him or her of your needs. The goal is to obtain a commitment to remedy the problem within an acceptable time period. If this person doesn't cooperate, you can then escalate the issue to higher levels of leadership. If this fails, you may have to be creative and devise a solution that satisfies your business needs.

New Methodology

The question of whether to implement new methodologies in phases or all at once is difficult to answer without addressing the urgency of the problems they're intended to fix. However, if weak or no methodologies are currently in place, an organization will likely benefit from phased improvements as a starting point.

Yet, if you discover a better way to do something on your project, you shouldn't necessarily apply the new process or technique immediately. The implementation depends on the overall ROI of applying the idea—the pain versus the gain. If the project plan needs to be reworked at a cost of two weeks, yet the overall benefit appears to save only one week, then the idea probably isn't worth implementing. Don't forget that small, incremental improvements can have a measurable long-term benefit on all aspects of a project—not just scope, schedules and costs, but also quality, morale and communications.

Resistive Team Members

What should you do with team members who refuse to follow defined methodologies? If the project members have valid reasons for their positions, you should work to satisfy their interests. If you don't support the members' position, then try to find middle ground acceptable to all parties. If that's not possible, assert your position as the project manager. In the rare case where one or more members still refuse to adopt the appropriate methodologies, escalate the issue until it's resolved.


The project manager is responsible for ensuring an effective methodology is in place. Not management. Not the head of the project management office. Although they share some accountability, the buck stops with the project manager.

Project management is about helping the enterprise be successful. As a leader, you're expected to use good business judgment as process and methodology issues are encountered. PM


Neal Whitten, PMP, president of The Neal Whitten Group, is a speaker, trainer, consultant, mentor and author. His latest book is Neal Whitten's Let's Talk! More No-Nonsense Advice for Project Success.




Related Content

  • Project Management Journal

    Getting Past the Editor's Desk member content locked

    By Klein, Gary | Müller, Ralf To reach acceptance, every research paper submitted to Project Management Journal® (PMJ) must pass several hurdles. This editorial aims to declare the editorial process and reveal major reasons for…

  • Project Management Journal

    Narratives of Project Risk Management member content locked

    By Green, Stuart D. | Dikmen, Irem The dominant narrative of project risk management pays homage to scientific rationality while conceptualizing risk as objective fact.

  • Project Management Journal

    Coordinating Lifesaving Product Development Projects with no Preestablished Organizational Governance Structure member content locked

    By Leme Barbosa, Ana Paula Paes | Figueiredo Facin, Ana Lucia | Sergio Salerno, Mario | Simões Freitas, Jonathan | Carelli Reis, Marina | Paz Lasmar, Tiago We employed a longitudinal, grounded theory approach to investigate the management of an innovative product developed in the context of a life-or-death global emergency.

  • Project Management Journal

    Investigating the Dynamics of Engineering Design Rework for a Complex Aircraft Development Project member content locked

    By Souza de Melo, Érika | Vieira, Darli | Bredillet, Christophe The purpose of this research is to evaluate the dynamics of EDR that negatively impacts the performance of complex PDPs and to suggest actions to overcome those problems.

  • Project Management Journal

    Navigating Tensions to Create Value member content locked

    By Farid, Parinaz | Waldorff, Susanne Boche This article employs institutional logics to explore the change program–organizational context interface, and investigates how program management actors navigate the interface to create value.