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Progress vs Process

Updated: Feb 29

If you ever feel overwhelmed by the ways to manage a project, you are not alone. From cork boards to enterprise project management software, recurring stand-ups to daily recaps, there is no shortage of ways to say “we are behind schedule” or “the idea needs work.”


Our path here was paved with the best intentions. After all, writing things down does help get them done. If all things were equally important, our problems would be over. Instead, with the power to turn anything into a multi-phasic project comes the responsibility of discretion. Without discretion, we too easily confuse process with progress. The fact that a project is moving forward does not mean the idea is getting better. However, if we can concede that task value is based on contribution to an end result, the landscape of management tools simplifies. No system or tool is better than another for managing projects until you articulate what it is that you’re managing in a way that everyone can see. 


The ambiguity between process and progress is put under unique stress in our creative projects. With different mediums and styles in play, the development of the product (our shared creative ideal) can dangerously become an assumed byproduct of timelines well-communicated. If approvals are secured and deadlines met, the project is moving- but in what direction? Here we reach the limit of conventional “telephone model” linear management.


Ensuring timely, accurate information is moving among the strata of an organization is critical, and this is for what project management tools are suited. But in creative endeavors of any size, the context of this information is nuanced, specific, and vital. At every junction, the exchanged information is subject to summarization and editorialization which can result in benevolent yet crippling manipulation of crucial context. In plain-speak: people don’t mean to distort messages as they move among teams, but they do.


Fortunately, we can manage these distortions by maintaining an undistorted common record against which to compare our understanding. When we communicate critical deadlines, we provide them as dates which can be found on a calendar.  But when we are invoking a critical creative style or decision, where is this noted: where is the master record and what is its format? 


Just like how a calendar allows us to measure progress in time, a shared syntax of critical creative concepts allows us to measure progress in thought. Linear communication alone does not support the complex interdisciplinary relationships that form when we make things today. The most important things, the best things, are made when multiple groups respect a common ideal.


 To see an example of a Common Creative Syntax, check out What Is Insight Language.

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