Being Told What to Do

Scott Francis
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In May there was an interesting discussion around an article by Peter Deng, entitled “Process Is Being Told What to Do by Someone Who Has Less Information than You“.  It is a fascinating read for a BPM practitioner.  Because Peter outlines a great process in his anti-process manifesto.  It really is quite remarkable.  And it fired up quite a discussion over at BPM.com forums.

Starting with this:

“It’s not that process isn’t necessary, you just have to be extremely mindful about it,” Deng says. This principle has guided his work over the last six years at Facebook, and today as he shapes product at Instagram. “I’m always striving to give my teams an environment where they can focus on building and nothing else.”

So far so good…  but then he shares “the steps he’s taken to thoughtfully remove structure at Instagram in order to maximize and sustain creativity”…. read that again.  The steps.  I’ll enumerate them below, paraphrasing:

  1. Step one: Clean your slate – here he describes process as a checklist you put together to solve a problem, which soon becomes irrelevant.  He advocates cancelling all meetings as you begin/take over a team or function, and then only gradually add meetings and only with well-defined agenda.  To sum up: Step One is a process for eliminating clutter that obscures root cause and motivation for your processes.
  2. Step two: Get to the roots – let go of the things that aren’t real problems “I need a weekly meeting so I know what’s going on with everyone on the team, but that doesn’t exist anymore” and realize these meetings are intended to be solutions to problems, not goals to be sought. And then get to the root cause problems.  Team meeting? so that everyone can be informed.  Think of other ways to keep everyone informed.
  3. Step three: Embrace impermanence – another way of saying “context changes, and your process should change with it”…. Peter’s quote: “When you solve a problem or create a process, there is always an expiration date.”  – I love this idea.
  4. Step four: Be spontaneous – move from a manager schedule to a maker schedule.  Fewer meetings about management, more meetings about building (which tends to be impromptu, and you need to have enough flex on the schedule to make that happen.
  5. Step five: Make more, test less.  Well, reading this in more detail, what Peter means is that testing has a cost, and we shouldn’t test as thought testing is free, but rather focus testing where it adds the most value – e.g. testing a hypothesis, or where the outcome will change your course, or when you are ready to ship.
  6. Step six: Revisit and revise – why, this sounds a lot like continuous process improvement.

So.  Is process being told what to do by someone who knows less than you?  Or is it whatever you make it out to be?  Peter has, in my opinion, conflated process with bureaucracy (and he isn’t the only one, if you read the BPM.com forums).  They’re not the same thing, thought bureaucracy is assumed to include all kinds of non-value-added process overhead.  Peter outlines a great process for breaking down bureaucracy – ironically he’s also described a great process for putting together new processes for your team in doing so!