A close friend once asked me, “What’s more important, process or results?” It was after a job interview in college and I immediately replied, “results of course!” After working for a couple years I’ve changed my answer many times, but the best answer is the same as it is for all questions. It depends.
I’ve worked on teams that have hundreds of people all the way down to delivering projects by myself. Often this is the quintessential question that I’ve seen cause more churn than any other, especially within tech. To help, I always ask myself three questions before starting a new project.
Process or results comes down to one thing, size. In most circumstances, team size. Larger teams require more information sharing which creates the need for structure and rigidity to continue forward. Lay this foundation early since documentation and traceability comes from process.
From my experience, getting features out the door takes precedence over defining a process. Starting out you track well ahead of the delivery date until you’re about 75 percent from completion. All the features need to connect or someone leaves the project. Things come to a screeching halt. Where’s the API documentation? Why did that get put over there? What does the comment, // I’m sorry., made by Jeff who left two weeks ago mean?!
Results are transactional. You have to work for them. Process is replicable. It’s the how you’re doing what you’re doing. Think of your overall process as a collection of smaller, repeatable blocks that can be taken to other projects. For instance, I was on a big web application project and in order to track our defects against the code we would add the task number in the commit. Now I do that on all of my projects, and it saves a ton of time to quickly search when I’m asked why a button is now Pompeii Purple instead of BurlyWood.
Process shows visibility and measurable progress to your shared goal. You never want to get caught developing in a vacuum, especially if something goes wrong. Tough conversations are easier when you can lean on everything you’ve accomplished. However, at the end of the day your client cares about results and sometimes may not care how you get there. To manage expectations, it’s important to involve key stakeholders in the process early and define the right amount of structure to deliver quickly. Process is a means to get you results faster. It should be handled with care as too much can cause just as much harm as not enough. Before starting your next engagement ask yourself the three questions above and you’ll be surprised how quickly you get results.
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