Guilty of a Process Diagram - Don't be, just be Smart

Posted on 1/19/2012 by Rajeev Singh

"Let's not get this process too heavy", "We'd prefer lightweight over the traditional heavy". Everybody has got process diagrams, even in the Agile sphere. You don't believe me? Ask any Agile manager and you'll get at least two; a defect triage process diagram and an iteration lifecycle diagram.

Replacement for Common Sense
You probably have a process diagram that you loathe and scoff at. Usually processes are proposed and adopted to replace common sense and then, even worse, compliance is monitored. If you have to have them, processes should be guidelines to remind folks of the steps and sequences in case there are doubts. The idea should be to provide support to those who need guidance; beginners or occasional troubleshooters.

Analogous to an Elevator Pitch 
Based on observation (haven't come across a research on it), I have concluded that most people prefer simple processes but fall in the trap of creating complicated ones. That calls for a couple of rules of thumb:
  • Start so simple that you void the decision box. If you are using decision boxes, chances are you are in the realm of questioning people's common sense. 
  • Expand a process area only when team members are missing the boat. If team members repeatedly fail to execute a certain step, question its need first. 
In gist, a process diagram should be a very high level happy day path free of clutter designed to handle unhappy day scenarios. An analogy for a good process diagram is to an effective elevator pitch; crisp, clear, and simple.

It is important to understand the 'why', specially if you have to innovate. And if the 'why' is clear, there's no reason you'd ever stand complicated process diagrams.

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