I’ll admit it: I’m obsessed with creating processes. Whenever it looks like I’m going to do something more than once, I start creating a process. It’s nothing big – I just write down what I plan to do before I do it. Viola! A process.
Processes can take many different forms and names: a checklist, a plan, a recipe, a playbook, a workflow, etc. They are all processes. The dictionary defines process as “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.“
Often the very act of writing down the steps highlights a few things I might have missed. Once I’m done, I can update it based on what actually happened, and the next time I do it, I’ll make fewer mistakes and do so in less time.
This is even more the case at a startup.
Some people cringe when they encounter a process. “It’s onerous!” they worry, “it’ll slow us down and we’re moving fast!” It might slow you down a bit. But it shouldn’t slow you down too much — otherwise, it should be reviewed and streamlined — and it might prevent you from making a mistake that will slow you down a lot more. And the next time you do it, you’ll go much faster.
Another way of looking at it is as an easy way to avoid dumb mistakes, especially in high-pressure, rushed situations, which is basically all the time in a startup. An even better way of looking at it is as a way to spend less time thinking about easy things and more time thinking about hard things. When you don’t need to spend time thinking about the little things, because you have a checklist, you can think about the big things. How can we do this better? Is this even something we want to do?
Processes are especially helpful even it comes to creative work.
At Loud Dog (the creative agency I ran), we had a process for almost everything. Some things were more logistics than anything, and these are obvious process candidates: launching a website, building a server, collecting client information, etc. But we had a process for creative things as well: creating logos, website designs, videos, developing names.
Often clients were excited about our well-defined processes. These were usually the ones that had been around the block before and seen what not having a process looked like. Other clients were reticent – mostly concerned about time and cost. “Do you really need to take all that time to generate one simple thing? I heard that the Nike logo was created over a weekend by a college student. Can’t you just do the same thing?”
This misunderstands creativity. The process doesn’t guarantee amazing. What it does is protect against downright bad. Without a process, creativity is hit-and-miss. Sometimes inspiration hits and it’s AMAZING. Other times, it’s not. A good process avoids this, grants a higher likelihood of amazing, and ensures good. There’s plenty of bad out there. When you need to generate results, not just the possibility of results, you need a process.
Well-defined processes help organizations scale.
Beyond ensuring good quality, good processes codify and distribute knowledge, ensuring consistent quality as an organization grows.
Every organization engages in repeated activities, from finding and hiring new employees, to designing new features, to marketing, selling, and servicing customers. The more of these repeated activities an organization is able to identify and codify, the more they will maintain quality as they scale, and the faster they’ll be able to scale.
Ad hoc efforts are the enemy of scale.
When a team fails to introduce process to their work, they end up relying on ad hoc efforts – one-time efforts designed specially for the task at hand. Although sometimes ad hoc efforts are necessary, they often rely on the heroic – and siloed – efforts of individuals. And individuals are not scalable. Processes are the opposite of ad hoc efforts.
At the end of the day, processes ensure consistent quality and allow organizations to scale. Creating good process is challenging and hard work, but well worth it in the long run. Relying on ad hoc efforts can create good short-term results, but you end up relying on heroic individual contributions that aren’t always duplicable and are never scalable.