Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Thoughts on Process

Seth's Blog: Why are you afraid of process?

Seth Godin makes an excellent point about the power of process and how many resist it (to some degree, including myself -- right Kathy?). The following quote pretty much sums up what he has to say:

Process, on the other hand, appears to be for Dummies.

So we bristle when we're asked for our weekly goals sheets, or when the boss wants us to use a database or when the insurance company requires docs to follow data-driven guidelines. We pass up the tenth novel by a successful author... Because the process has become too transparent.

And yet, in many cases, process is underrated.

Process is your ace in the hole when your intuition stops working.

I really think his point is valid. I know, for example, that as programmers we live and die by process at times. Sure, you need to be creative in designing a solution to a tricky problem. Or fixing a bug by changing the least amount of code.

But in many ways, the simple act of using CVS in a responsible way or tracking bugs, are examples of very useful processes. Heck, just naming files in a consistent way is valuable. Sure, they may not appear to be exciting aspects of doing a job. But they consistently free you up mentally to take on the really interesting stuff, and perhaps most importantly, give you a safety net from doing something you wish you hadn't.

The tricky part, as far as I can tell, is figuring out which are the good processes (like requiring that all bugs be tracked in a bug tracking system, and not on the back of napkins) and which are the bad processes (like requiring a full up front specification before you write a line of code). The only way that I've figured out how to make this decision is to try the process. Give it an honest attempt.

This, of course, means that you need to leave your comfort zone - but hey, as Seth Godin explains, if you can combine your intuition with a powerful process, you'll be much stronger for it.

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