Sunday, February 1, 2009

Process, progress and equality

So a friend of mine Mr. Fury recently wrote a little post on "Process" (Yup, thats capitol P process). Specifically, since he and I work for the same Big Co., we was writing about a wonderful framed master piece that hangs on a number of walls at Big Co. This art piece, which he points out, is meant to be inspiring and up lifting is a bit off the mark and is a bit mocking rather then inspiring and uplifting. This picture says simply "Process = Progress", I think attempting to indicate that we are not moving forward @ Big Co. unless there is a process in place. It may also indicate that progress can not be measured without a process - but I am not sure that is the direct meaning.

Now - I admit, that I share some of the sentiment that was expressed by Mr. Fury on this one: process = progress seems to be a little off the mark in the situation that he describes. To the point where for a little while when I would see this supposedly inspirational picture hanging around our building I would take a black Dry Erase marker and add the programmers negation to it ("!=") placing an exclamation mark in front of the equals sign. Thus changing the equation from a equals to a "not equals". However as I think about this situation even more, even the not is a little overkill (just moving to the other extreme).

The Bad
Process used as a shield against new work or used as a way to send people into a wait state - or cause them to circle because they have not paid homage to the process is using it in a way that it should never be intended. Those people are using process to attempt to slow things down because they are overloaded, overworked or just plain a pain in the ass. In any case - it certainly does not equal progress, quite the opposite in fact.

In this sense - I agree with Mr. Fury because he pointed out in his case that the process was getting in the way. In fact it was adding additional time and drag to what he was attempting to get done. In a number of ways this is doing process for the sake of doing it and not because it is adding value to the job or the work being done. Sometimes it is tolerable to allow process to add a 'factor' onto work being done, but when the additional work being done really feels like it is busy work, or work gone to waste - that process should be dropped or changed it is no longer achieving whatever the process' original goal was.

I liken this bad state of process to the current state of Unions. When you are 'not permitted' to do something as simple as plugging your laptop into a network port in a building because that is a 'union job', that is process for the sake of process and is just plain stupid.

The Good
Process that helps communicate amongst many and various groups inside of Big Co. This is the equality that I think the picture is attempting to draw out. As a company grows it will have need to attempt to keep a bunch of separate units all on the same page. The increasing size of any company makes this increasingly difficult. In this case a little process can help and be beneficial. The caveat that I make is that the process needs to be defined and agreed to by both sides of a given communication and has to be helpful to them both. This decision to add process then needs to be revisited on a semi-regular basis to verify that the process has not grown stale and the need for it long since gone away. Only here do I think that process = progress - using process to help progress.

Overall - I am not sure the direct equality makes sense even with my definition for "The Good". A little process doesn't hurt where it makes sense - but when the process goes bad or is dragging other things down by adding to much time to getting something done, that process should be reworked or at least revisited. In these cases process is getting in the way of doing what Big Co. should be doing - which is the work of the company for the customer. Missing that mark overall is tantamount to failure as a whole.
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