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Processes Shouldn't Be Ends
We Need to Understand The Reasons So We Can Make Good Decisions
We recently had an incident with a teacher at our children’s school.
The weather in Utah (in the United States) is fickle this time of year. One day it can be very warm (50°F/10°C), while the next day it can drop to extremely cold (20°F/-6°C).
On one of these cold days, we sent our son with two coats to school. But when he looked outside for recess, the sun was bright and it looked warm. So he only wore one coat. As soon as he got outside, he realized how cold it was, so he turned around to grab his other coat, only to have one teacher tell him to keep going out. He had “made his choice, now he needed to live with it” according to her. So he had a miserable recess in freezing temperatures because a teacher wouldn’t let him grab his other coat.
When he got home and we heard that, my wife and I immediately went over to the school to talk to the principal and the teacher involved. We had several discussions and emails (much to our son’s distress, since he just wanted the whole thing to go away).
Amazingly, the teachers felt like the process and rules should reign supreme. Children wear what they have when they go out to recess, and that’s the end. Cold weather be damned. No opportunity to grab an extra coat if it turns out to be colder than they expected.
The entire ordeal left us pretty frustrated. While we appreciate rules and processes, if the adults in this situation can’t apply some critical reasoning to extenuating circumstances involving young children, what hope do any of us have? It doesn’t even seem like a hard case. When it’s really bad weather, let kids do what they need to, even if that’s not the standard process.
Routines and Processes
We often have many processes in our lives and businesses that help keep things moving along smoothly. We have routines in our lives that allow us to more easily get through certain times in our days.
I have a morning and evening routine, as most of us probably do. While I do periodically change it up, my routine allows me to quickly and efficiently get through certain parts of my day without forgetting things, like brushing my teeth or taking medicine.
In our businesses and on our teams, we often have many processes, too. Often these we’ve put these in place over time to make our teams more efficient, or to ensure we don’t forget certain steps that may be important.
For example, on one of my teams, we had the standard process of a weekly update that went out to certain people. Every person would contribute a few key bullets, we’d aggregate everything, and then post the update so everyone could see the latest information. This worked really well for everyone involved and many relied on it weekly.
Most software development teams have standard quality assurance processes along with standard releases processes to ensure that code is checked and verified before it is put into production and released into the hands of users. These usually make sense, at least in theory, to ensure all teams can get verify their code and efficiently move code from testing into production.
Evaluating Our Processes
But all this said, we shouldn’t mindlessly follow our processes.
The problem with most processes is when they become ends to themselves, rather than means to an end, like the ability to efficiently ship new features or inform people about updates. Processes are there for our benefit to accomplish something, not as ends to themselves.
In one organization, we had the standard process of a bi-weekly status update meeting. When I joined, I questioned the purpose of the meeting. Who needed the information and why were we providing it? Could we do it differently or stop? We found out we had started doing these meetings because one executive had wanted it, and we had simply kept doing them because it became a tradition and no one had stopped them or questioned them. Even after the executive was gone.
In another organization, I took over a weekly update email that had been sent out for years. I had no idea if anyone even looked at it or used it, so I tested out the hypothesis. I slimmed down the email to see if anyone noticed or cared. Then I stopped sending it for several weeks (keeping backups of the data in case I needed it). When no one seemed to notice or care, I ended it.
It is easy to become a slave to a process, and even easier to forget why we are doing something. We may have the rule or process that kids need to go outside at recess. Normally, that may work, but the reason we have people involved in most processes is to apply critical thinking when needed. If the weather is unusually cold, we can and should stop to think about letting kids back inside for their coats. If a meeting has been happening for a while, we can and should question it. If we’ve been doing something a certain way because that’s the process, we should dig deeper to understand why.
Good processes can help us be more efficient and lead to good outcomes. But we shouldn’t be slaves to our processes. We should consistently evaluate them and ensure that they are leading us to the right outcomes.
Other Good Links
Of Course We’re Living in a Simulation (article) - It’s one of many possibilities, but it’s impossible to disprove, so here we have it.
Nobody knows—most likely, nobody ever will—if this world of ours was simulated by some higher-dimensional alien race, and for what purpose, and ultimately whether our simulators were themselves simulated. At a certain point, really, the specifics of it begin to seem beside the point.
The Family That Always Lives on Daylight Saving Time (article) - I love daylight saving time. I would prefer to have more daylight in the evening year round. So this family is kind of inspirational for me.
Standard time has mired most of the U.S. in winter darkness for months. In November, Americans willed the sun, which otherwise would have set by 6 p.m. or so in the northern part of the U.S., to set earlier, at 5 or even 4. Those who still have analog clocks and watches cranked them back one hour; otherwise, iPhones and other devices automatically thrust the country backward.
In their cold town in Connecticut, the Richards family thought,What if we didn’t?
The Golem and The Jinni (book) - I just finished reading this book by Helene Wecker and it was a delight. If you enjoy historical fiction or fantasy/fables, this is a great read. The story was excellent and the writing was great.