In operational day-to-day management we discourage thinking. We have repeatable processes and extensive automation to predefine how things are done.

Operations and Projects are different worlds when it comes to 'thinking'

In operational day-to-day management we discourage thinking.

We have repeatable processes and extensive automation to predefine how things are done. We have policies and standards that predefine the decisions to be made. Known risks are designed out wherever possible. Operational issues are dealt with by managers to meet set output performance figures and budgets – so these decisions are made within tightly predefined frameworks and proscribed measures of success. The timeframes are usually short – this week, month, quarter.

But in the world of projects we need to recapture the ability to think – clearly and deeply.

There are project delivery processes but most are progressive and not repeated within a project. Policies may exist to constrain the project but in many areas policies don’t exist so real decisions have to be made. The timeframes are usually long – you are delivering an outcome that can last for years.

Projects require us to create, define and manage both the process and the actual outcome that the process is producing. And you can’t do this step-by-step using a predefined process.

Many years ago we at TOP recognized that clear, deep thinking was essential to successful project delivery. We therefore developed a whole set of ‘thinking tools’.

For example, enabling people to think and develop clear, specific and measurable definitions of their desired business end states. These are the end states that need to exist in the business after the end of the project when everything is working ‘just right’. These end state definitions then provide both the context and the framework for the thinking and decision-making required to successfully deliver the project.

Projects are a different world to operational management. They require more thinking and decision-making. They also require a different way of thinking, managing and measuring success. You need to ensure your project delivery processes enable and encourage deep thinking, as just following a process doesn’t work.

Yet few project processes are designed to encourage thinking.

  • Communications plans are designed based on what the project wants to communicate, not on thinking about what the recipients want to know.
  • Requirements are based on workshops that ask people what they want, not how the organization needs to do business, compete and make money in the future. These workshops accept ‘answers’ when deep thinking is required.
  • Reporting is designed to give the status of the project against plans, schedules and timelines, but not to think through and measure the leading indicators of failure, the real measures of progress and the likelihood of success.

While we can get away with not thinking deeply in operations, on projects we need to rediscover ‘thinking’ and build it into our delivery processes.

Well, at least that’s a thought!

For further information


Topics: Project Controls, Project Governance

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Nov 2014) as "Think Different Worlds"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and corrections