Thrashing increases steadily over time in this type of project. By the middle of the project, the team realizes that some attention to process would be beneficial, but by then the damage has been done. The project team tries to increase the effectiveness of its process, but its efforts hold the level of thrashing steady, at best. In some cases, the late attempt to improve process actually makes the thrashing worse.
The lucky projects release their software while they are still eking out a small amount of productive work. The unlucky projects can't complete their software before reaching a point at which 100 percent of their time is spent on process and thrashing. After spending several weeks (or months) in this condition, such a project is typically cancelled when the customer realizes that the project is no longer moving forward. If you think that attention to process is a needless overhead, consider that the overhead of a cancelled project is 100 percent!
During the first part of the project, the process-oriented team seems less productive than the process-phobic team because the level of thrashing is the same on both projects, and the process-oriented team appears less productive because it is spending a significant amount of its time on process.
By the middle of the project, the team that focused on process early has reduced the level of thrashing compared to the beginning of the project, and has streamlined its processes. At this point, the process-phobic team is just beginning to realize that thrashing is a significant problem and then begin to institute some processes of its own.
By the end of the project, the process-oriented team is operating at a high-speed hum, with little thrashing, and it is performing its processes with little conscious effort. This team tolerates a small amount of thrashing because eliminating the last bit of thrashing would cost more in overhead than would be saved. When all is said and done, the overall effort on the project is considerably lower than the effort of the process-phobic team, and therefore considerably less costly.