It’s all part of the process

The first in a short series of pieces on modern ways of working

It’d be fair to say I am someone that enjoys process. From the way I organise my emails to making coffee, (and despite the high risk of turning into my own mother), I love developing and optimising a system.

But in our modern world, processes aren’t enough. Most of us aren’t doing the same, repeatable task thousands of times. We aren’t assembling cars from predictable raw materials. We’re dealing with irrational and unpredictable human beings and trying to get them to pull together towards a goal.

When you start trying to work on the edges of innovation this is amplified. The type of collaboration that it takes to break new ground requires listening, empathising, learning from others and building on it. Process can facilitate that, but it can’t force it.

For example, a breakthrough on one of our recent projects came when the creative and product team asked a commercial strategist to take a look through their ideas. It wasn’t part of the project plan, but their openness put a new lens on the concepts — highlighting a stand out idea that wasn’t just interesting, it had a clear business case behind it. It was smart people being humble enough to say ‘I don’t know’ and asking other smart people to help.

Despite all of this, what I find interesting is how frequently we look to fix the process first when things don’t work.

Perhaps that’s because it’s intangible. It can’t answer back. Fixing the process allows us to avoid that awkward conversation with our colleague (and friend), where we have to look them in the eye and tell them they let the team down. Or to accept that we ourselves screwed up.

Jumping to change the process also feels good. An easy solution. But I’m not convinced it’s always the right one. You quickly end up with lengthy, inefficient diversions (yet another status meeting) around the hole in the road (someone not communicating properly), rather than repairing what caused the problem in the first place.

So, my challenge to myself is now this: if something hasn’t worked, is it really process, or is it people that are at fault?

It may mean having those difficult conversations, but only by having a culture where we can have that level of honest, robust feedback can we tackle the real problems that stop us from achieving our potential.