Processes and people

Paul Glen published an excellent column in the September 27th ComputerWorld called “Processes and the People Factor” that process zealots like myself will do good to reflect on.

He states that process has become the de facto solution for most technical management problems in IT. He says a good process is a serial approach that provides actionable instructions where common deviations are anticipated with identified and specific responses available. He compares a good process to good code in that both “effectively resolve seemingly complex problems with conceptually simple solutions … providing guidance on what should be done, by whom and when”.

Yet he warns that we too frequently manage processes like code to our detriment. Processes are for humans; code is for machines.

  • Code is executed by circuitry with no underlying emotions about the assignment. Unlike people, machines “have no aspirations, resentment, anger pride or ambition. A 386 does not envy a quad-core.”
  • Code makes choices based on computable facts, whereas processes are influenced by the subjective experiences of the players.
  • Code does not care about stakeholders, while processes are subject to human relationship, politics and hidden agendas.

Glen suggests reviewing processes considering these questions.

  • Will the process lead to the desired outcome?
  • How does it balance competing agendas and goals?
  • Does it account for the emotional and personal needs of the players executing it?
  • How does it anticipate and address political concerns?

While good processes are very much akin to good technical solutions, an effective process must designed for human usability first and foremost.