It’s Never About The Process

Ever. Yet it’s so very important at the same time.

We drive processes quite hard, with good reason and positive intent. The process facilitates the change we desire and fosters an environment of learning with the goal of eliminating pain. Not a headache type pain (although it could be) but an organisational pain. And so in our pursuit to make things better, we create or adopt a process to either get us, or keep us, on course. But it’s not about the process and this is where i believe we have to be careful…

It’s too easy to get sucked into promoting or defending the process, above all else. And by process i am largely referring to the processes we use to deliver software. But this pervades far more than the engineering domain since it’s a social problem at the core and thus applicable to any socially organised group. It’s supposed to be all about the people, afterall it’s what sparked off the process in the first place. So throughout the process, the thing what’s most important is how the people, who are supposed to be positively impacted, respond. And to always keep in mind the difference between who they are and where they are.

And this is the part where English is a bit inadequate. In other Latin languages, there is a distinction in the verb “to be” that highlights the difference between the eternal and the temporal. It’s why you can never say in Spanish, as an example: I am hungry. You can never be hungry, you can only have a hunger. Moreover, there is a difference between being a programmer, and being a programmer. The simplest way i understand the difference is that being a programmer means it’s a calling, whereas being a programmer means that is your day job while in essence you’re really a bass guitarist who needs to pay the bills. In English it’s the same sentence: I am a programmer. And that’s the shortcoming in the verb “to be”. The consequence of which, methinks, is that we don’t distinguish often enough between the eternal and the temporal in our speech and leave ourselves open to interpretation, and more, blind ourselves in our ambitions.

While monitoring the process, and the way the people are responding to the process, we need to understand the difference between who they are as people in the eternal sense and who they are as people responding to change. What is more important in a social setting, is who they are in an eternal sense. This is the foundation for relationship, team work and ultimately, success in achieving the goal of the collective. Who they are as people responding to change is another dynamic. The former is more often fuzzy criteria for selecting team players, the latter for eliminating team players. And this is where the process fails: when selected team players are eliminated because they aren’t perceived as having integrated successfully enough into the process we establish. We choose process over people.

And at the same time, the process is super important. You cannot choose people over the process either since without the process, it would be hard to achieve anything, no matter how talented. And the subtle trigger lies in attitude. Let’s take the Agile Manifesto as an example. We value individuals and interactions over processes and tools. That is an attitude you need to manifest, not simply a great idea. And a time will come when the individuals and interactions (that are valued so highly) will sorely challenge the processes and tools: which you choose, if you choose, and the sum response to that crisis will define just how great an idea that really is 😉

One reply on “It’s Never About The Process”

[…] it is ironic that the only people Jesus ever fought with were the super-religious types. here were a bunch of people who really followed the details of the letter but completely missed the boat. i guess they favoured the process over the people. and Jesus rectified that, but He also never said to throw out the process, did He? […]

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