Agile · Planning · Product management

How much is too much?

Philadelphia sports fans are very familiar with the mantra: Trust the Process. But when it comes to software development many teams and leaders wonder how much ‘process’ is really needed. For those of us happily working in an Agile environment we reject the process-heavy development methodology known as ‘waterfall’ in which copious documentation and arduous project management task board often substituted for productive conversations and iterative co-learning.

I am by temperament not a person who loves process. Even in remote working conditions my preference is to hop on Slack for frequent conversations or pull folks together for virtual event storming, and I vastly prefer these informal communications to writing lengthy requirements documents that never accurately capture what an end user truly values or needs.

But if you’ve read this blog much over the years you know that every so often I am pushed – by new team members, complex projects, or radically altered working conditions – to wrestle again with the question of how much “process” does the team need to function at peak effectiveness over the long haul. That raises the corresponding questions of when is there too little process (leading to dissipated efforts) and how much is too much (crushing the creative and collaborative energies of a team free to self-organize).

I’ve been asking these questions again recently. I keep coming back to my default answer: The team needs just enough process to keep them focused on the right things but not so much that it gets in their way. A big part of what I like about this answer is that it is inherently flexible. It doesn’t propose a one-size-fits-all answer on the “right” amount (or type) of process and so it acknowledges that each team is different just as each project is. So too each leader is different and what one person counts on to help her stay on top of the many moving pieces of a development effort might provide too little structure for one person and not enough for another to feel comfortable.

If you’ve found an ideal balance that works for your team I’d love to hear about it. I keep swimming in the shifting sea of a flexible response, trying to encourage my teams to find the level and kind of process that helps them do their best work and not insisting that they all follow my own preferred style. Sounds easy but of course in truth it’s not that simple.

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