There are two types of jobs: doer or reviewer. The doer creates widgets, manages programs, or provides services. The reviewer are consultants, auditors, and any external entity that reviews the doer's product or service after the fact. Being a Gen-Y'er, my education consisted mostly of theory and thought. Very little was actually spent on planning and developing methodologies. In the real world, most of the resources are spent upfront on the planning stages of the project.
In consulting and auditing engagements, a large proportion of the resources are spent scoping and planning the project. It's this upfront definition of what the project is going to entail and how the goals will be achieved that is vital to the success of the project. For each discipline of work, there is a standardized body of knowledge that governs how the work should be done:
- Project Management - Project Management Institute "Project Management Book of Knowledge"
- Government Auditing - Government Accountability Office Yellow Book Standards: Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards
A subset of that high body of standards is the proprietary methodology that each firm may use. Typically, the methodology is a repeatable approach that the firm uses to approach a problem but to also market the work.
To haphazardly tackle a problem, like most undergraduate work, is asking for failure. In the real world, there are deliverables, deadlines, and project updates. Breaking the problem up into bite size pieces and managing each component individually and as a whole will ensure or at least give you the best chance for succeeding.
In summary, no matter what your project or task may be, it's best to develop a scope, develop an approach, and plan the project or task before beginning any work. Throughout the work, touch back to your planning document (if you formalize it) and measure your progress to ensure you are on track.