Growing Your Processes

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Summary:

You can’t force a garden to grow, and you can’t force new processes to work. However, like the gardener who prepares and maintains a garden for optimal plant growth, you can use a planned, organic approach to lead your processes more successfully.

One of the topics we discuss in my full-day tutorial on “Becoming an Influential Test Team Leader,” is “Leading the Process.” This involves observing how work is being done and making the right adjustments when needed. It is a responsibility that is often handled by leaders and managers, but all too often process changes meet with high resistance.

The challenge is that new processes require people to change how they do things, which many people find uncomfortable. Interestingly, discomfort is also present when the current methods are broken.

I have seen and used two common approaches, but I favor a third.

The Great March

The first approach is what I call the “Great March.” Like Patton storming across Europe in World War II, the idea is that many things are placed in motion at once and an aggressive deadline is met. Another example of this was the US space program in the 1960’s. There was a target date—the end of the decade—to send men to the moon and back safely. This approach worked for Patton and NASA, but in many organizations these efforts collapse under their own weight. For example:

    • A company launches a new metrics program for IT. A rich set of measures are defined, tools are acquired, and people are trained, but after six months, the data is lacking and some people don’t even remember the project.
    • Management decides that test automation is a good thing. A lot of money is spent on tools, consultants, and training, but one year out, 95 percent of the testing is still done manually.
    • An organization tries to create and launch nine centers of excellence at one time. A noble idea, but with too much change and not enough senior management sponsorship the effort stalls.

You get the idea.

The Organic Approach

The second approach is what I call the “Organic Approach.” This is like planting a berry vine and harvesting fruit the following year. You don’t have to do much; just plant the vine in the right place and make sure it is watered and doesn’t get destroyed. This is a very uncontrolled approach, and the results depend on the people who care about the outcome.

Pilot projects are a common way the organic approach is seen. However, the old “skunkworks” idea is another way to do things small before doing them large. The thing about skunkworks is that you often are working without official permission and, therefore, in secret.

If your idea works, you have an example to show the benefits. Of course, then the critics start saying, “Yeah, but it won’t work in my team.” The nice thing is that the critics don’t have to try them. They can continue cutting down trees with an axe while you are using a chain saw.

Two things often happen:

  1. Peer pressure causes the critics to try the pilot or skunkworks methods.
  2. Management sees the benefit of your approach, goes on a grand march and, of course, takes credit.

However, organic approaches can make people uncertain. People ask, “Where is this whole thing heading?”

“I don’t know,” may be your honest feeling, but it doesn’t make for a good answer.

Also, after using the organic approach for a period of time, it’s common to have a lot of things lying around that few people understand or even know about. You have a pile of stuff, but you’re not sure what’s in it.

A Better Option

With these large project efforts that heavily involve people and process, I have come to realize some things:

  1. Just like a seed takes time to germinate and

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