Working in a creative environment, it seems inevitable to think that process is the enemy. In the past, my instincts would tell me “don’t put yourself in a box” or “process will have you stuck doing the same tasks, you’ll never have creative freedom that way!” In a business where every project is different, it is easy to start believing those thoughts. Not to mention, working with smart and talented people should mean that everyone “gets it”, writing it out would just be a waste of time. I have come to believe that all of these thoughts were wrong.
Process is the index of each step required to complete a project. You can choose to ignore those steps or you can intentionally build them into your business. I now advocate for strong process because it can have a positive impact on a company’s culture, product, and bottom line. Not to mention, process is unavoidable and running from it only results in disorderly operations.
An effective process involves detailed planning that keeps everyone on the same page. Projects stay steadily on track and the quality of work is exceptional. The team knows where they can find the right answers and where they can help when they have time. Everyone feels important and trust is high. Strong process allows for peace of mind and healthy professional growth.
Weak process typically starts with little to no planning and ends with sloppy work and an unruly team. The lack of clear communication quickly leads to confusion and frustration. Workers become disengaged and start making mistakes. This means they have to redo their work, adding more frustration and sprouting distrust. When a team loses trust, they spend more and more time questioning each other. Inevitably, work is slowed down, the product loses quality, deadlines are missed.
The impacts of intricate planning and strong communication stretch far beyond the cadence of work or the deliverable. Actually, strong process, or the lack thereof, impacts the heart of your business.
A popular strategy for creating a healthy work culture is to hire based on personality fit. By this logic everyone should get along great, be happy at work, and work well together. I have found this to be a myth. Don’t get me wrong, I frequently seek out friends at work and even think about one day hiring my friends if I were to have a company of my own. Even so, the reality is that every business is based around a product or service that requires a process to execute.
The best talent aligned with a strong process will result in the best work.
In my opinion, culture grows where there is focused effort and detailed planning much easier than the opposite.
When a strong process is in place, everyone is working in harmony. They know their responsibilities and their day seems easy because they have a complete view of what they will accomplish. Everyone also has a clear view of their teammates’ responsibilities. This transparency cultivates appreciation for each individual’s unique efforts and contributions. It also breeds teamwork, always knowing where to lend a hand and assist in keeping the project on pace. Furthermore, the details of your workflow are valued when they are visible.
Think of the unspoken things that happen everyday and week that keep the creative work in motion. The culture should be built so that these menial, yet necessary tasks are done regularly. For me, these tasks are sweeping, taking out the trash, putting tools away, or cleaning the machines. For your team it could be responding to emails, balancing the budget, or syncing with the intern. When these key steps are built into the process, completing them can make your team feel productive and energized to stay focused on the true task of completing a project. When the everyday tasks are assumed instead of included, they become extra, annoying, and tiring. When we build a culture and emphasize personality fit over process, we fail to recognize the valuable roles that transparency and accountability play in our work. Even in the best creative works, transparency and accountability are utilized to execute and produce great results.
In a design driven industry, there are typically two aspects of a product that I look for to measure value: craftsmanship and creativity. Both of these aspects suffer without a strong process. Simply put, details are less likely to be overlooked when they are made explicit. When you utilize your process to create a detailed plan for your team, they know what they need to do and when they need to do it. They can spend all of their energy making it happen. Your level of investment into setting them up for success will be returned in their work. Establishing a focused work environment opens opportunity for creativity to blossom. By releasing the weight of not knowing the next step, your team suddenly has more time and energy to think about what matters to their work.
When there is an inadequate plan of action and little communication, your team continuously spends energy trying to find answers and they become fatigued before they can really get to the important work at hand. This could also invite a mediocre approach to timeline and deliverables. Just think, if you’re not planning for it, why should your team? The problem with the all too common “wing it” approach is that all too often it leads to cutting corners, unruly sprints to the finish, and mediocre results.
Focusing on one step at a time yields the highest quality results.
The impact on your company’s bottom line should be easy to see by now. Process, good or bad, influences your culture, your end product, how your teams work together, and their level of productivity. When you have a strong process in place that supports the end goals, your product can be made efficiently and at high standards. When you skip that strength, you spend more time and money in the long run. Sufficient amounts of planning and communication give you better work for less cost. Not to mention, employee cost, turnover, and overhead are all directly correlated with culture. The cost to not invest in a foundational process is far too high from a business perspective.
I used to think that taking the time to plan and communicate was an unnecessary endeavor. The team should just get to work without wasting time on talking about it. Working with talented, creative, innovative people who know what they’re doing, it’s easy to think that. As creatives, our ego might tell us that process will confine us and hold us back from our potential. But, it’s not process in general, it is weak, undeveloped process that holds us back. Stop promoting confusion and frustration and blocking yourself from meeting your goals by ignoring the necessary steps. However unnatural it might feel to add organization and structure to your environment, it is a necessary step. Lean into process and build a strong team to support the growth of your business.