I used to work for a big corporation. Very big. Not the biggest, but they had a lot of employees, a lot of money, and a lot of processes. All in all, it wasn’t a bad experience, but I do remember a couple things that were very, very frustrating. Most humans want to have some decision making ability and creativity as they go about their day and do their jobs, right? Nobody really wants to be crippled by people and processes that take away that autonomy. That’s the very essence of being human! That ability to make intuitive leaps, to create, and to flow.
Processes should enhance those attributes that are unique to humans. They should make sure that things work properly every time, absolutely. But, the point of that assurance the process gives us, is to free us from repetitive thinking, not to enslave us into even more of it.
At that big corporation, we worked in a bit of a bubble. Although the corporation was large and very bureaucratic, for the most part we operated independently and weren’t subjected to very much of the bureaucracy. However, little bits of it would peep through every once in awhile and I would realize just how dehumanizing some of the processes were at this large corporation.
One time I had an expense that hit the magic threshold of $500, at which point ALL expenses had to go through an incredibly-detailed review process that was highly bureaucratic, sometimes all the way up to being approved by the CFO of the company. Keep in mind that tens of thousands of people worked at this company. Do you think that reviewing my $600 expense for a software license was a good use of time for the CFO of a multi-billion dollar corporation? Big yikes.
But these processes don’t come out of nowhere. Surely, at some point in the behemoth’s history, some employee did something naughty. Somebody didn’t like that, and they spoke this process into existence, where it probably remains to this day, clogging up the schedule of the CFO and other highly paid individuals, not to mention being a total nightmare for the people trying to get an expense report approved.
On the other hand, I look at some of the processes that I put in place that companies that I consult with, and they have the opposite result. Rather than reduce the creative power and autonomy that people who are affected by the processes have, instead it gives them even more chances to reach intuitive answers, be creative, and problem solve using their very human skill sets. Ideally you want a process to enhance that. We want people to be more human, not acting like computers. Not acting like an automaton. Humans should be free from the tedious and repetitive thought processes that computers and other tools can automate or reduce.
So look at how you build a process. Make the #1 criterion for whether it’s a good process be if it is increasing the ability of the humans to do their jobs excellently.
Maybe it adds creativity.
Maybe it reduces time to free up your mind for bigger thoughts.
Maybe it means you’re getting rid of a process that has been frustrating people for years.
Imagine if that expense report process limit did not exist anymore. I’ll bet the amount of times that system was abused in the 20 or 30 years since it was created it’s probably way less than the amount of time that it blocked people created a huge opportunity cost for an entire organization.
Humanize your processes!
Interested in hearing more about this? I spoke with my friend Tim Bornholdt on his podcast Constant Variables about how to do this, and how not to be a jerk when you create processes. Skip to around minute 41 for this specific topic (or listen to the whole thing!): constantvariables.co/episodes/69
I talk about software development on Twitter, come talk to me there! @jordanambra