Process – Necessary Evil?

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What comes to your mind when you hear that word?  Are you jubilant in the comfort of knowing exactly what the next step is, or are you feeling claustrophobic because your creativity just got hog tied?  Lean evangelists live by process because what can be identified can be measured, therefore evaluated and improved.  Creative types reject process because you can’t schedule innovation, you can’t track and improve original thought.  A good Product Developer can meet in the middle, or swim in both lanes when needed.

I would consider myself a lean advocate, not a lean evangelist.

Back to process.  Process is a step by step instruction to accomplish a task.  Processes can include steps taken by one person or a group of people or resources in a defined sequence.  Line a number of processes up and you get a workflow, or a scenario that starts with a certain input and produces a packaged outcome.  In a manufacturing sense, think about assembling a pair of scissors.  The processes may include steps to procure the raw materials, steps to deliver the materials to the assembly line, steps to assemble the scissor halves together with a rivet, then steps to test the scissors for form and function, then steps to package the finished scissors for shipping.  This is very linear, very repeatable, very consistent.

The beauty of this process is that each step is measurable, you may know exactly how long it takes to attach the 2 halves together with a rivet.  This allows you to match the processes before and after the assembly steps to maintain a steady flow of goods.  It takes 30 seconds to assemble, but 1 minute to pick the parts, then you need 2 resources picking parts, it’s that simple.  Once the steps are measurable, you can adjust the steps and see how they affect the process, then adjust the other processes to match.

Still following?

Some might think, “This process stuff is great!” but in the world of Product Development and Design things get grey.  The benefit of process is repeatability and predictability of the workflow, but the downfall is the loss of flexibility to deal with variation.  Lean principles offer a quiver full of Six Sigma tools to eliminate variation, but variation is what the design cycle is all about.  On the flip side, those who refuse to accept process can tent to get lost in the weeds, particularly creative types who can’t be bothered, and should not be bothered by the details.

My take on process in design cycle?  A good process should have minimal steps to accomplish the task.  An effective process should clearly set the inputs, provide milestones and allow deviation between those steps for personal creativity and experimentation, and define the final expectations.  “This is where you are, these are things you need to hit, there is where you need to end up.  Figure out the rest.  Have fun along the way, keep me posted.”  One key from Lean principles that I am a fan of is the revision of process as requirements change, or as innovations occur.

What steps within the design cycle are process-able?  I will leave that for another day.

What I do know is that I struggle with process on a daily basis.  What are your thoughts?


2 thoughts on “Process – Necessary Evil?

    […] because the design cycle is far more then creative work.  Good designers and teams understand that process is not meant to constrain their creativity, rather provide more time for it by streamlining […]

    […] areas within the design cycle that can be standardized, such as the items I had discussed in the Process blog post. The design topic that I have skirted around is the creative process itself while developing […]

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