Note: This is an old opinion piece I wrote many years ago. To some extent, my hard line view on process improvement has evolved into something a bit softer. I'm a big believer in "Agile" software development methodologies that balance delivering "working code" with a repeatable and predictable process.
When I hear people say we should not become overly focused on “process”, they often remind me of my grandmother. She refused to wear a seat belt because of the one-in-a-million chance it would jam and trap her in a burning car Never mind the 99% chance of suffering major head trauma as you are ejected through the front windshield. Similarly, I can always point back to the few instances a good process or approach failed me. I can also point back to the hundreds of times it was an essential element in successfully delivering a project.
More often than not, when a process or approach fails, it is not the result of becoming overly focused on a process; it is the result of using a poor process. But what is a process? Processes are sometimes disguised as approaches or methodologies, but whatever they may be called; a process simply describes a consistent way of doing business. Poor processes are often incomplete, lack en
Image via Wikipediaough detail, or simply do not match the reality of performing the work. Good processes provide direction and a proven approach that generally will lead to success. Perhaps more importantly, a good process points you in the right direction when no other path is evident.
Some of you are saying, “Hey, Mark, I’ve survived this long without all this hoopla about process!” Sure you have! I’ve seen many examples of superhuman feats of willpower over the years. Project teams and individuals manage to deliver just before bursting into flames. The truth is that smaller projects can survive purely on the sheer audacity of the team to overcome hurdles. In fact, I love working at companies where I’m surrounded by such passionate people. Unfortunately, as projects grow larger so do the size and number of hurdles. There is only so much our Herculean determination can accomplish. Inconsistencies in our ability to deliver begin to crop-up, quality starts to slip, turnover rate rises, and our competitive edge dulls.
Am I advocating we develop a set of rigid and inflexible processes? No, but I am a staunch believer in developing good processes – and following them! Does that mean we never stray outside the boundaries or look for new creative solutions? Certainly not, just do it in a controlled fashion with full knowledge of the risks involved. When you find a better way, make it part of the process (a.k.a. Process Improvement). Am I suggesting we focus on process versus delivery? No, I’m saying we should focus on delivery through better processes.
I’ve heard people say they have very few documented processes or detailed methodologies because they are too inflexible. Really? I am all for being flexible, but how far am I bending? How do I know when too far is too much? Who will it impact on my team? Before you can answer those questions, you need a point of reference. You need a firm understanding of your process.
You may or may not buy into all this process mumbo-jumbo, but I’ll tell you this: The road ahead is windy and full of potholes. I’d fasten your seat belt if I were you!