Good Process, Bad Process

Process is one of the most contentious words at a startup. With increased focus on culture, many consider process to be a messy corporate virus which refuses to die. While culture is absolutely key to a startup’s success, all sales managers know that absent of a sales process with clear stages and qualifiers, forecasting would be out of control. The same holds true for software development. So what does good process look like and how do you know you are using it right?

Good process enables communication. When coupled with clarity on roles, and business systems to instrument communication, good process enables information to move quickly to relevant constituents of a business. All startups are in a race against time, and losing time because of lack of ability to move information rapidly is certain to send a startup into chaos. If you are bigger than 10 people, you will need some sort of process to avoid chaos.

Good process enables information to move quickly from one part of the business to another, or from the edges to the core. For instance, when sales reps learn that a company is losing business to competitors, good process allows for this information to be communicated to product management which can quickly move to attack the new threat. When a development team learns of potential schedule slip, good process allows for this information to be communicated to customers seamlessly. When a developer learns that a certain story is blowing past its estimate, good process enables other members of the team to learn about this meaningfully so they can help. Absent of good culture, this would be worthless but even with good culture, some process is required to allow developers to communicate. Bad process on the other hand creates silos & bottlenecks. Bad process results in a sales rep unable to communicate directly with a product manager when a prospect has questions about an upcoming feature. Bad process ensures that the customer success team is unable to provide any visibility to product management on common concerns of users.

Good process enables stakeholders to get new information that could influence their course of action as soon as possible. This applies as much to CEO learning of unhappy customers, to developers working on a new feature of changing requirements. On the other hand, bad process results when process itself becomes the goal. When an organization sets up rigid rules around how information MUST move, & managers attempt to enforce the process as if it had some inherent value, you know you have a bad process on your hands. When you find that members are consistently breaking from the process to move information, you have a bad process – not a bad employee.

Good process enables teams within the business, as well as the entire business to get on the same page as efficiently as possible. This is exactly why a sales process, or a development process or a customer success process is entitled to achieve. Further, good process also provides guard rails when faced with highs or lows of a startup. Good process allows for significant room for judgment. Bad process becomes a substitute for judgment. When faced with uncertainty, if you find yourself leaning on process to decide what to do, instead of thinking about the desired outcome to guide your actions, you are likely falling victim to process.

To summarize, good process simply enables teams with great culture to reap its benefits. Bad process on the other hand tries to stymie culture, and results in dis-empowerment of employees.