Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Proccess Isn't That Important

I'm not all that keen on process lately. Sure it takes some process to get software written. Process is how we get jobs done. But in the end, within certain limits and circumstances allowing of course, how goals are achieved is no where near as important as achieving the goal.

I have seen teams brought to a standstill because the process indicated that the entire ten member brainstorming group had to come to a consensus on a design before the feature could be started. I have seen stakeholders start witch hunts because an otherwise smooth implementation was not following their imagined process of how software gets written. I've seen teams of otherwise friendly and rational groups of people torn apart because the processes in place did not give individuals the responsibility over how to do their work and put them at odds with each other.

Process should be minimized to the greatest possible extent. Use just enough to keep yourself organized while slowing yourself down as little as possible. There is a slew of policies out there that people believe make their organizations run more effectively which are really only getting in the way. And once again I will admit that some policies can be advantageous and necessary. But even the necessary ones are probably getting in the way somewhat of the real goal of getting the next great iPhone application to market.

Why do people overuse processes? Part of the reason is that workers need to be held accountable for their work. If a manager doesn't know who is responsible for a piece of work, how will they know who needs help when the operation isn't running smoothly? How do you decide if new hires are needed when bottlenecks occur? How do you divide all the work that needs to be done in a way that scales? I can't really argue with any of those motivations.

The part that I do take issue with though is that processes are overused when they are not the best tool for the job. This is probably because small processes are just so easy to create. "Don't forget to CC HR when requesting time off." Simple, easy, not very time consuming considering you were probably already writing the email anyway. But it's a slippery slope and many people don't notice when they start to slide or might not be aware of other options. Also, once a mountain of process is in place, it can be difficult to roll it all back. It's easier just to append another small rule to the process.

I can hear the wags saying, "Chuck, none of that information is really new."

To which I respond, "See the blog subtitle."

"But this post is not particularly useful either. Of more benefit would be recognizing when a process isn't necessarily the right policy and what to put in place instead."

You know what? The wags probably got that one right. And so it will be a good topic for my next post.

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