Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Process is kind of a loose word, where different people mean different things by it. When a process is broken, though, just stating that it is broken is useless. You have to describe WHAT about the process is broken, and why. Usually it is not very difficult to discover, but the piece that is broken is often there in order to make something easier for someone. It was not seen as a breakage, but just a short cut. Sometimes you can get away with one of these in a process, particularly when the process is long-running.

This is deceptive as people think "Well, that one little deviation did not hurt, one more won't hurt either." Soon the original deviation is one of many and the process breaks. Often there is a finger pointing exercise wherein everybody trots out their favorite theory of what went wrong, but the process remains broken. The deviations often have become the practice in the organization and people are invested in it.

Often an outsider is brought in to help "fix" the process.

Being an outsider, this person usually immediately sees where the problem is and tells everyone exactly what it is. Either the person is thanked and process is put back to a working state, or it is decided that the outsider does not "get it" and cannot understand the intricacies of how the organization works. Regardless of which result comes out of it, we can rest assured that the process will drift away from the ideal at some point. So, what can one do about it? Usually you have to have someone dedicated to a concept like "quality" where the process that is followed is periodically reviewed, and someone is held accountable for the worthiness of the process.

Many times this sort of function is seen as pure busywork of the worst kind, and a waste of effort. The time wasted every time the process breaks and profits or customers are lost more than make up for any investment in quality, but people will still make the short term decisions to save a few dollars.

In technology ventures, this whole "process" dance is even more vital as the processes are often automated and can occur thousands or millions of times before it becomes apparent that it is broken. Ironically, because of the fluid nature of software, process is given even shorter shrift than in real physical processes because you can often kludge something together to get to a short term goal. Inevitably you will pay for it later, with interest.

If you are involved in a technology project, regardless of vendor, platform, etc. be sure that you can describe your process for solving your problem in language that anybody could understand, and then be sure that you stick to it. I'm not saying never change the process, as they will evolve to meet changes, but if you cannot explain what you do, or how you accomplish your goals you are doomed to waste a lot of time and effort that could be used to help create more value from your technology investment.

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