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Why is it that anytime the word “process” is mentioned, it seems that everyone turns tail and runs…? It never fails. I think that people, quite frankly, are scared of the word “process.”
Why would this be, you ask (assuming, of course, you have not run away from this page…)? Well, I think it’s because it carries a certain weight to it. And more often than not, people associate another word in the same breath as the “P” word: “formal.” Even if no one mentions the “F” word, people automatically assume that process really means “formal process.”
“Formal” and “Process” need not go hand-in-hand. It’s nice if they do, sometimes, when it’s required or needed. But these two words are not like swans, partnered for life.
I recently put out a proposal for a potential client that included functional testing and performance testing. Knowing that this client is a start-up, I knew that they wouldn’t have much by way of defect management, environment management, or change management. So, I included in my proposal that I would help them establish some lightweight process around these three areas. In my mind, I was thinking of very simple things—a spreadsheet for defect tracking, a spreadsheet for change control, and some basic agreements and communication plans around identifying who’s using which environment and when. (By the way, when I said “start-up”, I really meant two people. Implementing a defect tracking tool for a 2-3 person company is overkill in my opinion, hence an Excel spreadsheet.)
In my discussions with the potential client, I mentioned a “lightweight” process and light documentation. In the Proposal, I also mentioned “lightweight” process. However, in negotiating the Proposal, the client’s response to me was that they didn’t think they needed “formal process” until they were up and running for about a year.
Now I have two fundamental issues with this statement. The first is that I never mentioned anything about “formal process.” The second is that the client didn’t think they needed any process for a year. At least.
Process. What does it really mean to have it?
Here are some definitions I pulled from a Google Search from various sources:
- A series of actions, changes, or functions bringing about a result
- To put through the steps of a prescribed procedure
- A series of actions that produce a change or development
- To subject to a routine procedure
To me, none of these definitions seems arduous or stringent. Or formal.
Here’s my definition. This is also the definition that I shared with the client.
Process is simply a set of agreed-upon and communicated procedures for accomplishing a specific task or tasks.
That’s it. If the task is fairly straight-forward and is only performed by a couple of people and/or affects a couple of people, then a simple, straight-forward process should do the trick. List some agreed-upon procedures on the back of a napkin, share it with everyone that would be affected, everyone agrees to it, and by golly, you have yourself a process! That’s not too formal, is it?
I don’t think so.
On the other hand, if you have a complex task, set of tasks, or set of sub-tasks that must be worked on or completed together, and there are many people involved in doing the tasks, and there are many more people that are affected by these tasks, then it’s a different story. The more complex a task is and the more people that are involved in it typically requires a more formal process. It should be well-documented, communicated, and easily accessible for reference. There may be many components, thus adding to the complex nature of the task. In this scenario, a “back of the napkin” process probably won’t do. This is where a more formal process is needed.
In the case of my client, I explained my definition of the “P” word and hope that they understood. They are already following a process—they just don’t call it that. It’s currently just a process communicated between two people, probably verbally or via email. But they’re following their own process nonetheless.
So next time, you hear the word “process”, don’t cover your ears and start singing, “la, la, la, la, I can’t hear you…” No. I want you to look at the person who said it. Yes, look at her—right in the eye. And ask her what she means—exactly—by process. Does she mean simply agreeing to and communicating some procedures to get to an end result? She’ll likely say yes. I’ll bet you that’s all she wants to hear.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree about having process? What about informal or formal process? Let us know your thoughts! We want to hear from you!