Processes and Tools are your Backdrop

Are you a slave to your process? When your process takes over and becomes the point that all work centers around, something is wrong.  If all learning and knowledge revolves around the process, you’re missing opportunities. Process and structure have the tendency to put blinders on teams.

Instead of thinking about the process in the foreground, think of it as a backdrop.  It’s there to support you so that you can focus on other things. Allow the process to free you up to focus on what’s really happening with the people.

Let the processes and tools support the interaction, rather than drive it.  The other day I was talking to a colleague about the amazing Agility Health Radar.  It’s a great tool that can help you assess the agility of your organization and team.  You have 2 choices when using this tool: either you can center the whole discussion around how the tool will measure, what each dimension does and how the tool works.  Or, you can start with something like, “This tool handles every dimension you can think of, that’s all covered. Let’s talk about what you’re experiencing now.” The tool is now there to support the discussion, but not to drive it.  Rather than center the conversation around the tool, instead, as the dialogue unfolds, turn to the tool when you need to.

When processes and tools take over, pull it back. Sometimes a group gets wound up about the processes and tools.  For example, consider the ever-popular status report. I’m using the term ‘status report’ here to mean anything that communicates status, including slide decks, charts, excel sheets, etc.  A team can easily get into the weeds about what do include, who is at fault for a delay, and how much detail to include. One way to pull this back is to simply ask “What do we need from the person consuming this report, in order to achieve our outcomes?”  and maybe even look at each other and ask “What do we need from each other?” Once you can answer these questions, the status report is there waiting to serve you, giving you a way to communicate what you really need. The status report is there to support and serve you.  If your team is a slave to the status report, it’s a red flag that you need to pull control back to the group.

A good process/tool is one you don’t think about.  Processes and tools should free you up to think about more important things.  All of your knowledge and expertise should not be about the process/tool. A template is a great example of this.  When I use a template for a document, it allows me to focus on my content rather than worrying about fonts and formatting.  

Focusing on the process/tool promotes dogmatism.  Yes, this is a bad thing.  My experience has been, that people trained in a particular tool or process, tend to become dogmatic about the use of that process/tool.  Why is this? Because their brain has wired the process/tool as the answer rather than a conduit. They have built a skill around the process/tool instead of building a skill and then filling their toolbox with supporting processes and tools.  In coaching a scrum team I often suggest that instead of the traditional “What did you do today? What will you do tomorrow? What’s blocking you?” we simply ask “What’s most important for the team to get done today? What’s blocking us as a team?”  Oh, this made the scrum master crazy because I was off-script! “That’s not how scrum says to do it!” he shouted. The scrum master wanted to put the process ahead of what the team really needed.

What are some examples of where your processes and tools can serve as a backdrop, and allow you to focus on the people?  Let us know!