Process (not a dirty word!) means knowing how you make decisions

“Process” is the least* understood business word.  I hear it talked about as something that must be added or introduced into various organizations so that they are more controlled.  Most typically, we tend to think of process as a synonym for “going to more meetings.”  So I want to set the record straight.

Process means knowing how your organization makes decisions.

There is nothing more to it than that.  If you know who will make a decision (the product manager), when they will make it (during the planning meeting), and what input they use to make the decision (a product roadmap) then you have a well defined process.  Ideally, you’d also know when you are able to influence the input (quarterly roadmap review or sprint retrospective).

Unfortunately, everyone wants to be able to make decisions all the time.  Making decisions all the time really means that you never make any decisions!  If there’s no agreed time, place, or person to make and communicate the decisions, it is impossible for anyone to know what’s the company is supposed to accomplish.

The default solution is to have meetings, meetings, and more meetings.  These meetings have lots of status updates, impassioned discussions, clever powerpoint slides and the appearance of consensus; however, they universally lack any commitment to execute work.  In the end, individuals doing work follow their own priorities or spin in the prevailing management wind.

So the next time someone suggests that your organization needs to work on a process, start by figuring out how you are going to make decisions.  After that, the rest of the process is just decoration.

* MRD ranks as a close second, but confusion is reduced since it’s as synonym and homophone for the French “merde.”