Tuesday, January 9, 2007

January 9, 2007 – Evil Alter Ego #4: Mrs. Process

Fighting alter egos can be tough work. Like Dr. Jekyll striving against Mr. Hyde it can seem like a loosing battle. Especially when a particular alter ego seem so helpful in the beginning. Take the case of Mrs. Process. She starts by figuring out how things are done and documents the procedures. Working with others she identifies faster and better ways of getting things done and incorporates them. By performing audits and making sure that the procedures are followed she can spot problems before they become issues. The problem starts when she becomes inflexible and intolerant. As she turns over to the dark side her focus become the letter of the law. Forms become static and any alterations are denounced vociferously.

Don’t misunderstand me. As a former Software Quality Assurance Analyst and Project Officer I am a big fan of process. It is when we become slaves of process that this alter ego wins. It isn’t limited to QA people, either. Project managers can become mired in process. How do we stop this insanity?

Question the process. Processes are meant to speed up development by being consistent in the way tasks are performed. Over time they should evolve and improve. That doesn’t always happen. If a process you or your team is being asked to perform doesn’t make sense, question it. Find out the purpose behind it and determine if it is going to help or hinder you from achieving that goal.

Focus on purpose. Once you understand the spirit of the law make that the focus. If the process needs to be bent, bend away. Very few processes were intended to be rigid. Granted, if you are working with nuclear materials there are some specific process you need to follow. But when you are managing a project the letter of the law is not always required. Do what makes sense using the processes as guidelines.

Allow for exemptions. Sometimes it just makes sense to bypass a process. If you have a strict Quality Assurance group or are subject to Sarbanes-Oxley requirements it is important that you get permission, usually in writing, to do so. Corners can be cut, but you need to ensure that the project and company are not placed at risk by slicing too much.

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