Article - Talent or Process: What Would You Choose?


Several variations of the following phrase have been attributed to a number of business leaders, politicians and, even scientists:

In order to be successful all you have to do is to hire a whole bunch of really talented people and abstain from interfering in their creative process.

I personally strongly disagree with this statement and want to share a study on the roots of project failures conducted by the Standish Group in 2006.

After, yet again, determining that our ability to deliver projects on time and on budget was seriously challenged, they went to the companies they were studying and basically asked the following question:

Our project delivery still sucks. Can you tell us why?

The results of that survey are presented in Table 1.

Table 1


A quick perusal of the table should not surprise any project management professional. Yes, lack of user involvement will kill any endeavor. Same goes for lack of detailed requirements document. Yes, projects where customers expect a delivery of a Ferrari for a price of a bicycle, will most likely go considerably over budget …

But an interesting thin happens if we attempt to highlight all of the factors related to processes, planning and systematic approach, thus separating them from the “human” factors (see Table 2).

Table 2


It turns out that 70% of project success is dependent on the underlying processes while only 30% can be attributed to the talents and industriousness of the team members!

To put it in perspective, let us imagine that we have two teams:

  • Team A consists of absolute technical geniuses, but does not follow any processes and does not have a project manager.
  • Team B is made up from “average” technical professionals, but follows proper processes and is lead by an experienced project manager

If you choose to believe the table above, it looks like Team B will beat team A 2 out of 3 times on any assignment we decide to allocate to them!

Let us examine this phenomenon from a sports perspective. Which tea is always lauded as the most talented before the beginning of every World Cup of Soccer? My beloved Brazil. Which team usually wins? Judging by the last fourteen years, it is either Italy, Spain or Germany; the teams with outstanding professionals (but not Brazil-caliber super stars) bonded together by an excellent tactical and strategic system.

And a final comment: what happens in those rare moments when we actually manage to bring together superstars and proper processes? In terms of soccer we get FC Barcelona (Messi, Neymar and Suarez supported by Guardiola’s tiki-taka).

So, here is my question for you:

If you were a company CEO, which approach would you choose to build your team?

  1. Just get the most talented people and let them figure out what needs to be done
  2. Systematic approach is the most important thing! Talent comes second
  3. I would try to build a balanced approach where talented people follow specific processes
  4. It is something else entirely

About the Author

Jamal Moustafaev, MBA, PMP – president and founder of Thinktank Consulting is an internationally acclaimed expert and speaker in the areas of project/portfolio management, scope definition, process improvement and corporate training. Jamal Moustafaev has done work for private-sector companies and government organizations in Canada, US, Asia, Europe and Middle East.  Read Jamal’s Blog @

Jamal is an author of two very popular books: Delivering Exceptional Project Results: A Practical Guide to Project Selection, Scoping, Estimation and Management and Project Scope Management: A Practical Guide to Requirements for Engineering, Product, Construction, IT and Enterprise Projects.

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