Results over Process

Timothy Johnson takes a swipe at methodologies in his post titled “Worshipping the Hammer“.  To be more accurate, he takes a swipe at those people who focus on process & methodology over results.  Timothy asks the following questions:

  • Are you spending more time arguing about process than you are about outcomes?
  • Are you posturing and positioning on methodology more than you are on results?

Powerful questions.

Timothy’s main argument of his post is that results should be considered over process.  Before thinking about the process/methodology that you will use, determine what the outcome(s) should be.  This is the same trap that many organizations fall into….to keep from falling into this trap, organizations should think about what they want to do before deciding how to do it.

As an example, consider the following scenario:

You’ve been tasked with reviewing your organization’s IT processes to find ways to make it more efficient.  What’s your first step?

Do you look for a methodology to use to make the organization more efficient?

Do you focus on on the process rather than the project?


Do you determine what ‘efficient’ really means?

Do you try to figure out what it means to be successful in the project?

Of course, my vote is for determining what you are trying to do and what does success means in the project.  Timothy suggests that many method-heads would argue for throwing a methodology at the problem first, which I’ve seen happen many times.

Also mentioned in Timothy’s post is his new book, which is apparently about systems thinking…a topic I find very interesting.  I’ve just begun re-reading The Fifth Discipline (the new release) and love some of the topics presented in that book so I’m looking forward to reading Timothy’s new book when published.

9 responses to “Results over Process”

  1. Stephen Rock Avatar

    Good post. I have a slightly different perspective however. Perhaps it is just adding another “or.”

    I find the key question to ask is, “what is the boss’s boss’s objective?” Instead of playing the game of telephone and trying to guess the objective based on second or third-hand information, go to the source.

    Let me give an example. We were involved with a project to make an Accounts Payable organization more efficient. There was plenty of opportunities to change processes within Accounts Payable, but addressing these issues would not come close to satisfying the CFO’s needs.

    He wanted an organization that provided great service to suppliers at the lowest possible cost. To provide great service, it would be necessary to change processes in the purchasing department (the source of many issues) and re-train the employee base on their role in paying suppliers. To truly lower costs it would be necessary to move the function to a new location. Any increase in productivity would pale in comparison to the potential for reducing salaries.

    In short, find out the real objective from the source, then be prepared to identify and address root cause issues other than process. You might need to address training, communication, staffing, organization design, systems, controls, or incentives.

  2. Eric D. Brown Avatar

    Hello Stephen,

    Thanks for the comment…great stuff. You’ve got a great point…it is necessary to find out the real objective from the main source (e.g., your bosses boss).

    You’ve got a great blog going at…I’ll be adding your feed to my daily reading.

  3. […] tip: Speaking of confusing cause and effect, please see this insightful piece, by Eric Brown, about results and process. Please also view this excellent article by Miki Saxon about “in the moment” […]

  4. Timothy Johnson Avatar

    Hi Stephen – I’ll echo Eric’s agreement (to a point). As a project manager, I’ve seen too many projects initiated by what I like to term “executive brainfart” – if the boss’s boss cannot point to a specific organizational problem or opportunity, does it really matter they are the boss’s boss? Yes, you want to satisfy your key stakeholders, but if they really don’t know what they want, aren’t you just chasing your tail and wasting organizational resources in the process?

  5. Stephen Rock Avatar

    Ah yes… A blogger’s dream – A comment war!

    Ok. I will bite. I will agree and disagree (to a point).

    If a boss’s boss cannot point to a specific organizational problem or opportunity, it makes them a bad leader or a bad communicator. It does not make them irrelevant. They get paid (and fired) for their vision – and their brainfarts. Project teams get paid (and fired) for their delivery against whatever the boss’s boss say.

    Some observations:

    – What seems like a brainfart may be, in fact, part of a high-caliber plan. The boss’s boss is hopefully advantaged by a broader and more strategic perspective. What is obvious to him or her may not be obvious to others. A person’s decision to not support the plan because it is “chasing your tail and wasting resources” is actually harming the organization.

    – There are valid reasons to create a change and not disclose specific organizational problems or opportunities. I may choose to manage the communication of that problem or opportunity on a different timeline than the leadtime on the project. (Granted, this is frequently an excuse for not communicating however.)

    – I see a whole lot more people that think the executive’s idea is a brainfart than I see actual brainfarts. People, by nature, are comfortable with the status quo. Why else would the world need change management consultants. 😉

    – Sure brainfarts exist. In the words of Tennyson in The Charge of the Light Brigade however:

    Some one had blunder’d:
    Theirs not to make reply,
    Theirs not to reason why,
    Theirs but to do and die,

    The greater context of the poem is an actual battle that was based on a bad plan. Tennyson points out, however, that the odds of dying in the battle increased if you stood around thinking about how bad the plan was.

    How depressing is that for a Monday morning?

    Stephen Rock

  6. paul carroll Avatar

    i love the concept of the milkshake moment because the lack of flexibility drives me crazy both as a consumer and as a writer/consultant. i’ll add a story to the mix:

    in 1990, give or take, steve ballmer and i had breakfast at a hotel in new york, when i was a reporter on the technology beat at the wall street journal. steve, whose weight tended to bounce all over the place, was on one of his periodic diets and ordered a bowl of rice. the waiter said that wasn’t on the menu. we were at a japanese hotel, so steve, politely but insistently, said he imagined rice was served with lunch. it was, the waiter said. steve asked for a lunch menu and ordered something that came with rice, then told the waiter to hold everything but the rice.

    ah, i thought, ballmer’s attitude is why microsoft will beat ibm.

  7. […] tip: Speaking of processes that stray from purpose, please see this excellent discussion by Eric Brown of how to ask the right questions in order to arrive at the right […]

  8. Eric D. Brown Avatar

    Hi Paul – Thanks for the comment. Great story…thanks for sharing!