Breaking Patterns, Using Patterns

“There is good news and bad news. Which one do you want to hear first?”

“The bad news.”

“50% of all projects fail.”

“And the good news?”

“50% of all projects are completed successfully.”

If one of your projects fails you will probably try to do a better job next time. You will try to avoid past mistakes and take a different approach to certain aspects. Perhaps you will determine workloads more detailed, set more realistic dates, define goals more clearly or assign responsibilities earlier. You could also begin to question the patterns underlying the way you approach your projects or even better, begin to consciously use these patterns.

What are patterns?

Patterns are a tried and tested concept in many areas of life. There are patterns of thought and behavioral patterns. Patterns in nature let us differentiate horses from zebras, tigers from leopards.
We regard patterns as templates that make our work life easier.

There are also patterns in art, product development, architecture, philosophy, mathematics, music, dance, computer science and software development.

Simply put, a pattern describes repetition, something that is constant; a feature or characteristic that remains the same when reproduced.

Patterns in nature

Patterns in nature

Are there patterns in projects?

By definition each project is unique, so can there even be patterns in projects?
Yes! A project may be unique but first and foremost with regards to the result it produces. All project participants produce something new, be it a product or a service. Very often different boundary conditions such as budget, goals, requirements and tool used apply to each project. Projects are unique, as are boundary conditions.

The fact that there are certain defined procedures and tool applied is no news. As a result, a project is unique and steady at the same time. This line of thinking helps to define project types and define one approach per type.

How do I recognize patterns and potential issues with them?

Do you remember what it was like to be a young professional and the selection processes you had to go through? There was one test that I remember I had to take several times; recognizing patterns in a short period of time and complete a series of numbers, derive mathematical formulas or find analogies.
You can indeed prepare for these kinds of tests because certain elements resurface. These tests too follow a pattern.

Can you guess the next two numbers?

Can you guess the next two numbers?

A pattern must offer some kind of benefit. Regarding projects it is possible that its process, i.e. who, what and when, follows a pattern. The benefit of a project pattern lies in the fact that it serves as a template for each new project. Projects do not need to be created from scratch but can be partially automated, which saves both time and money.

Patterns also emerge in daily work life, for example if the same colleagues keep approaching you with concerns, problems and questions instead of contributing based on a proactive mindset. In this case a very unproductive pattern shows itself, a pattern that causes dissatisfaction, negative atmosphere and additional workloads.

How do you recognize patterns that cause problems? Well, there is no panacea to it because there is a difference between patterns in abstract numbers and patterns in human behavior. Project patterns may offer specific benefits for specific project members, e.g. orientation through existing solutions or structured communication. For another project may result in less personal freedom and monitoring of individual performance. There are always (at least) two sides to this story.

For organizations, companies or relationships patterns are increasingly important; but the most important thing for a company must remain the development and distribution of products. Still, patterns need to be questioned and challenged.

“Well, that’s the way we handle things around here.” is one of the worst things superiors may utter. It describes nothing but a pattern, a pattern that definitely needs to be questioned.


A pattern means repetition, something steady. Patterns are neither good nor bad. Whether you need to question, challenge or even break a pattern depends on the individual consequences they have for you and the alternatives available. Engaging with them in a constructive and targeted way based on the specific situation you are in is an opportunity to shape and improve social interaction.

Michael Schenkel believes in useful tools, that support users in their work and that provide a common working environment for all types of roles in a project. He became a member of the microTOOL family more than fifteen years ago and took over the position of head of marketing for about half a decade. In October 2017, he moved on to a new adventure and we wish him all the best on this new path.

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