Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The "right" processes are wrong

stacked tea cupsI was pondering processes while making some tea today. Most of my process pondering these days is inspired by what Sig is doing.

I think our natural tendency is to work hard toward some perfect process. We try doing something in one way, find the flaws, adjust, grow, etc. Hopefully as things progress we have developed processes that work really well for us. But that is the key right there, they work well for us. The question we need to ask is whether they work well for anyone else.

Think about an employee trying to get a job done. What usually happens is that the boss (we) try to impose our process onto their actions. It is a kind of FIFO mentality (fit in or f-off). Our process might work brilliantly for us, but horribly for them.

Compare it to making a cup of tea (or coffee, or your beverage of choice) — every person has subtleties and nuances in the way they make their favourite drink. The end result is the same, a drink which you enjoy drinking, the process is different. Typically we are happy to allow people their own coffee/tea/beverage making process, why do we expect them to design/code/file/etc. according to ours? Do we allow freedom for variation in the process if the end result is the same?

It seems like a fixed process way of working is a relic of modernism. Allowing processes to vary provides flexibility to create efficiency (each person works differently, just like we each make tea differently). Also, we get to watch the process and see the benefits (and disadvantages) of how others do things. Again, adjust, grow, etc.

On the other hand we also want to avoid the confusion of a laissez–faire environment. There must be some form of regulation. Do not police process, regulate it. Ensure outcomes, monitor efficiency. Be open to new ideas. Adjust, grow etc.

When I was preparing this post I sent it to a friend, Dave Alcock (founder of The Forum SA), who gave me some great feedback which I felt needed to be published as is:

"There are times when the concept needs to take a back seat. Particularly where team members interface — there need to be agreed conventions of handover and interaction at those interfaces IMHO.

"It also relies on there being adequate skill/experience/ability within the people you give this licence to. Some people simply need method otherwise there is no way they can achieve the objective.

"My personal take: Method can turn ordinary people into super-achievers and turn super-achievers into ordinary people."

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