Embrace the process
There is a common refrain when trying to implement processes in small companies. It goes something like this: "I don't think we should do that, it's too much process and it will slow us down."
Every time I hear that phrase, I want to scream. It's similar to saying "I don't need to cross this rushing river right now, so what's the point in building an easy way to get across it?"
Eventually, you will need to cross the river. And when you do, it'll probably be an emergency, and now you'll die trying to forge the river.
This type of thinking, that you can implement a process "just in time and when you need it" is common, shortsighted, and wrong.
The reason it's wrong is that everything we do is already a process. If I want to get an answer to a question so I send a direct message on Slack, and then we have a meeting to discuss it, and then we finally decide that the answer needs to be decided by someone else... that’s a process—a terrible one—but a process nonetheless.
A process is the way we go about communicating thoughts into action.
The important thing, and the thing we don't typically stop and think about, is how effective our processes are.
And that's something lots of small teams are unwilling or unable to discuss. The word process sounds scary, and people don't like having to change the way they're doing things.
Effective teams are held up by three pillars: trust, shared vision, and process. If those three things are in place, your team will succeed.
Having a strong process allows for: a source of truth, a shared way to get answers to questions, and empowerment through ownership and accountability.
So how do you create a process that works?
Identify gaps or pain points
Start by talking with your team specifically about what isn't working. Have them think about the last project they did or a current, ongoing project.
- When were they frustrated and why?
- How did they resolve their frustration or problem?
- How did they feel about the resolution?
These questions will help you see what problems exist and how they're currently being overcome. Understanding how people felt about the resolution, or if they couldn't find a resolution, will help you decide what problems are the biggest ones to tackle first.
The biggest problems are ones that are shared by multiple people and are blockers for moving a project forward.
Ask your team what their dream end state would be
Thinking back on the project you discussed earlier, there are a few questions that can help you see what a stronger project might have looked like:
- If they were imagining the perfect project, what would that dream end state for lthe project look like?
- What changes could people have made to the project in question that would have make it run and end perfectly, and why would that have helped
Knowing these answers will help you identify where things are breaking down and the places to focus that will make people feel the most valued and heard.
It will also help you decide if there are new tools that will help you work together more effectively, or if all you need is to change the way you're currently using a tool.
Brainstorm a solution together
Once you've identified the problems and talked about what the perfect end state would look like, it's time to start considering solutions.
When formalizing a process, it's best to get all the immediately impacted parties to brainstorm together. That way they have more buy-in to the solution because they helped create it.
It's also helpful to set some parameters around what the solution can be. For example, if there's a specific tool you have to use, or that certain parts of the process must stay intact, mention that upfront so that people can brainstorm within those constraints.
It's your job to make sure decisions are logged and that the ideas from the brainstorming are collated into an easy to understand process, and shared with the team.
Put a timeline and retrospective in place
Once the team agrees on an initial process, you'll need to set expectations. Since change can be scary, and process can be really scary for some people, be sure to put a timeline around it. As an example, you can say that you're going to try this new process for one quarter or even just one month. At the end of that time frame, it's your responsibility to get all the impacted people together for a retrospective. You'll review the goals of the process, what worked, and what didn't.
From there, you'll be able to make subtle adustments over time that will help make your team more confident and productive.
It's important to keep in mind that all change requires an adjustment period, and often the first run through a process will be rough. People might complain. They may say the new process is stupid.
But repetition is key here — there's a difference between a process being unfamiliar and a process being bad.
We all thought riding a bike was stupid right up until it clicked and we could cruise around town quickly. The test period needs to be long enough to actually gain some practice, and the team needs to commit to really, truly following the new process — even if they don't like it at first — through the entire test period.
The end result
I've seen this work really well at previous companies. The initial process took time to set up, but it meant that anyone could come in—as a new hire or from a different team—and start adding value immediately.
Having a process that runs well also means that it's always organically evolving. Depending on business or team changes, the team can add or remove pieces of the process so that it always makes sense and is still easy to follow.
Through attention and repetition, the process becomes baked into the DNA of the team and the company, which makes it easier for everyone to have shared knowledge and work more quickly.