It’s easy for folks working on a project or running a business to get so wrapped up in process that they lose sight of the actual goal — shipping killer products.

Eric Reiss has written a fantastic post on the topic entitled “In defense of ‘making it up as you go along’”. The post articulates this conundrum better than I could ever hope to:

… I have a lot against creating gameplans that don’t allow for deviation or the unexpected voicing of a sudden brilliant idea that turns the whole project on its head… My problem is with the tyrants who blindly stick to this (or any other established process); who hide their own lack of talent and creative insight behind a veil of pedanticism and false authority.

Sorry Columbus, ignore this new world of yours. Remember, your job is to find a passage to India. What will you do between now and the next daily scrum meeting regarding this project?

I call these tyrants Process Nags. Process Nags are so focused on doing it “the right way” that they forget about the product. They stifle innovation and they destroy the autonomy of the team. For companies focused on innovation (and who isn’t these days) this is a death knell.

The problem is not unique to a particular process or organization. When something is successful, people want to replicate it. That’s logical and natural. But what happens when, as with Agile, you are trying to methodically replicate “making it up as you go along”? Often, you lose the very soul of the idea. Rather than being agile, teams become rigid and fixated on the rules. Process trumps product.

So, how does a team avoid process over product? Have a story. Every team should know what they are building, why they are building it and how to measure success. The story makes this possible. And I’m not talking story in the Agile sense, but rather a narrative. Paint a vision of how your user will interact with this product. What will they do with it that provides tangible value? In the absence of a story, all you have left is a collection of parts (features) and when that’s all you have, a factory floor mentality can set in that focuses almost exclusively on productivity and process.

Good designers are good story tellers and good stories motivate teams. Motivated teams don’t need to focus attention on doing it “the right way” because it just happens. Motivated teams don’t focus on roles and formal processes. Motivated teams just get shit done and leave the Process Nags out of the equation.

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