Today's topic is the ongoing debate on the role of process in organizations. Some argue that process is the key to bringing order and structure to operations, while others believe it can actually hinder productivity by adding unnecessary overhead.
However, I believe there is a solution that can preserve the benefits of process while minimizing its downsides. It's a unique approach that you may not have encountered before, and in this discussion, I'll share the guidelines for implementing it and the unexpected advantages that come with it.
The Importance of Understanding Process in Collaborative Work
Process is the underlying framework that defines how individuals collaborate with each other. Regardless of whether you recognize it or not, process already exists within your organization. It can be either explicit and documented, or implicit, something that people inherently understand due to their prior experience of working together.
A process can either be universally agreed upon or one that lacks a shared understanding among team members. Despite the latter, opposing the existence of process within group collaborations is nonsensical. Rather, the focus should be on shaping and defining how team members work together to produce optimal results.
The Challenges of Working with Process
Opposition to process often arises due to negative past experiences with it, which is quite common. This is because, similar to code, process requires constant attention to prevent degradation and ensuing issues. One of the biggest challenges with process is that it takes on a life of its own.
For instance, let's consider a software engineering team that is currently focusing only on new work and not working on bugs reported by the support team. While addressing the problem through a process response may seem like a viable option, any change implemented may not necessarily yield a permanent solution. This is because the process itself can become outdated or ineffective, and its original creators may no longer be there to oversee necessary modifications.
This uncertainty surrounding the origins of process can make people hesitant to implement changes, especially when the process is critical or involves high risk. As a result, process may continue to operate like a zombie, with team members following it even if it is inefficient or damaging. This is similar to legacy code, which works but is risky to modify. Hence, people usually prefer not to tamper with it unless it's absolutely necessary.
What if the concept of process was more flexible and adaptable to change?
How would the perfect process appear?
- It would be characterized by its fluid and dynamic nature, with the ability to adapt to the ever-changing needs of the organization.
- By embedding contextual details within it, the process could be easily modified.
- Moreover, it should be concise, up-to-date, and clear, serving as the definitive reference for team members to rely on.
- The ultimate goal of the perfect process would be to provide a reliable source of truth, empowering team members to work efficiently towards achieving the desired outcomes.
Viewing Your Process as Code for Better Management
To manage process effectively, treat it in the same way that you treat code. In essence, a good process resembles good code in the following ways:
- Updating the process should be a simple and straightforward task.
- Version control and historical information should be available to monitor changes over time.
- The expenses involved in implementing changes should be minimized.
- The availability of context is essential, explaining the rationale behind the process and its intended objective.
- The process ought to function as a complete manual that explains the workings of the organization.
Solution: Open Source Process
How can you create a flexible process that adapts to the ever-changing needs of your organization?
The most effective solution is to open-source your process, which involves documenting it and inviting suggestions for modifications from anyone within the organization. By allowing everyone to participate in changing the way the company operates, this approach may require a significant amount of effort. However, the benefits can be profound, providing greater clarity and transparency. Above all, it is empowering to say that the way in which we work together is documented and that anyone has the ability to alter it.
The Benefits of Creating a Written Culture
Writing down your process is an essential practice for an organization that has a written culture, and there are several benefits to documenting things:
- Writing enhances clarity of thought and demands precision, ultimately resulting in greater clarity.
- Written information is asynchronous and available anytime, making it more scalable and not requiring meetings for information sharing.
- Writing is advantageous for distributed teams where team members work remotely from different locations.
- The only downside is that documenting requires a significant amount of effort to maintain.
In a next article, we'll explain how to open source your process.