People vs Process

What the enterprise world gets right, and we don’t.

When you think of a startup, processes are not exactly the first thing that comes to mind. Instead, you envision an environment where people are trusted to always do the right thing, where checklists are scoffed at in favor of a natural feeling for what needs to be done, where failure is viewed as something that happens every day because that’s how things work.

The Pros of Process

As I mentioned in one of my latest articles — In Defense of Human Testing — there are things that humans are naturally good at, like thinking and creating, and there are things that are better confined to a checklist.

Only Fix It When It Hurts

There is a very simple rule that you can follow to determine when exactly to implement a process around an existing task: only do it when it hurts. While not a terribly objective suggestion, I can assure you this is a pretty good one.

People Problems and Process Problems

The second aspect to pay attention to is the kind of problem that you are trying to solve. With time, I have come to differentiate problems in two categories:

  • People Problems are problems that don’t stem from a lack of process, but from issues within your team. This might be friction within your team members, communication/cultural issues, lack of commitment, or anything else that involves the human aspect.

The Start/Continue/Stop Method

This is a method I picked up when researching better ways to structure retrospectives. It turned out it can be applied whenever you want to ask for ideas and keep track of their implementation over time.

  • What is one thing we should continue doing?
  • What is one thing we should stop doing?
  • We should continue making bugs our first priority.
  • We should stop pushing fixes to production without going through QA.

On Respecting Momentum

There’s one last consideration: you should always respect momentum. For a deeper explanation of what that means, I invite you to read my article The Hype Cycle: What It Is and How to Game It.

Technology leader and strategic advisor. I work at the intersection of people, software and words.