Process vs Practice

Series 2, Episode 13 | 4 April 2023

Show notes | Transcript

Most of the time the process assumes linearity, like step one, step two, step three, step four, but in reality sometimes there is iteration. And there are phases of work as opposed to steps of work.

In today’s episode of the Circuit Breaker Show, Bob and Greg address a current trend they’ve noticed in their interactions with customers, balancing the pendulum between process-driven product development and practice. Learn more about process-driven product development.

This topic traces back to some of Bob’s early work in Japan. You’ll discover the Japanese perspective on process and how it has been implemented differently in the US. Making the pendulum straight in the middle is no guarantee of success either. They will discuss how to find the “sweet spot” that allows flexibility between process and practice. You’ll identify what kind of manager is needed to balance process and practice.

They’ll dissect Edwards Deming’s notion, that says, “If you can’t describe what you do as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing”

Join Bob and Greg for this stimulating discussion on the boundaries of practice and process.

Enjoy!

What You’ll Learn in this Show:

  • The pendulum between process-driven product development and practice.
  • Why the process alone is no guarantee of success.
  • The implications of becoming overly rigorous with the process or practice too rigorously.
  • Capacity and capability in the process.
  • What makes execution difficult?
  • Process and practice go hand in hand.
  • And so much more…

 

Hosts

Process versus practice – Transcript

Bob
I go back to Deming statement, which was always you know, if you can’t describe what you’re doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing. But it doesn’t mean if you can describe it as a process, you know what you’re doing. A lot of times we describe what we have as a process, and it doesn’t work, right. And so it’s the notion of like, at some point, we have to be able to take the time to understand what we’re trying to do, and realise that the standardised formal way of approaching the same thing every time is not necessarily the right way. But it’s about general principles and understanding the principles behind all of it, as opposed to the process behind it.

Welcome to the circuit breaker podcast where we challenge the status quo of innovation and new product development. We’ll talk about tools and skills and methodologies used to build better products and make you a better consumer. I’m Bob Esther, and I’m the co founder of the rewired group, and I’m one of your co hosts. And we’re joined by Greg Engel, who is my co founder and chief FOB interpreter. Join us now as we trip the circuit and give you time to reset reorganise and recharge your brain to build better products. Hey, Bob, Hey, Greg, what’s up, man?

Greg
So today, we’re going to talk about something that is actually hard to talk about. But it’s a recent trend that I’ve been seeing, or we’ve been seeing as we go through talking to customers. And what it is, is, I call it the pendulum between process driven product development, and practice, or craft or art, or whatever word people use for that, you know, free flow design type thing. And, and there’s always this pendulum of how companies react to that. And as things get tighter, or fears of of economy get worse, I’m seeing more and more companies say, Well, if we just put a tighter prep process in place, we will get the right results, we won’t waste money, we won’t, all these things. So I want to just talk about that a little bit in our belief of you actually have to balance both going too far to one side of the pendulum on either side could be dangerous. Yep. And so I just want to talk about that a little bit today. Yep. Sure.

Bob
So the big big topic.

Greg
So first, I just want to if you could define for us what when we say probably a very heavy process driven design practice, what do we mean? Like what am I seeing…

Bob
…waterfall or stage gate are are very, very process oriented, right? They have they have very stringent kind of criteria. They they have, in some cases, a detailed out what they’re supposed to do in each phase. And like think of automotive you think of of anything that’s under regulatory reasons, they all have to have a pretty substantial process to follow, because there’s so many little details you have to follow. And so so there’s part of that where it’s that process. But the interesting part, is the process alone and doing those steps in the process don’t guarantee success.

Greg
Well, I’m what I think what we see when we’re doing this with people like especially right now is when they’re getting more more into that process, I think everything you said is right, is they also try to start putting big data in there, or they start putting things that are almost impossible for teams to get or give you sell give you false hope. Yep, that you’ve done more work than you really have done. So we see that when this pendulum starts swinging over to process we see things get more rigid things get, the team has to do more work to get…

Bob
…more to less output. In some cases, it’s…

Greg
…to get more certainty from the supply side, yes. Which oftentimes is certainty on the wrong side, your your famous quote you like to say is complexity on the wrong side or simplicity on the wrong side. Because we think we’re making it simple for them, hey, get this data, get this, get this get this. But it’s actually very complicated. And it’s very, it actually gives us false hope. Because we know, as we get closer to launch, we also we often make trade offs on those things.

Bob
And a lot of this for me routes back to some of the early work I did in Japan around process. And the interesting part to me is that difference between the way I’ll say the Japanese talked about process was these were the boundaries by which you have control. And so the boundaries of the process was basically to say, like you have responsibility and authority to change things inside that process. And that it was more about continuous improvement and changing and realising like, you know, there’s always a way to make it better. And but here’s the boundaries, right? Where when it got translated over to the US is it got back to best practices, it got back to building a process that is this is the steps these are the ways to do it. I don’t want you to think stop thinking and just do the process and it works. And so what happens is, is that most people take this most people equate taking and making a process with some that thinking, just follow the steps. And so that’s where I think there’s this big difference is that at some point time, there’s always got to be some deeper thinking inside the process. But most people forego that and just try to say if I do this step and this step in this step, it’ll guarantee success.

Greg
And I think what we’re saying with it with the process thing as you need process you need you need steps, you need steps, people have to go through you need metrics, people have to hit all those things. But when we try to make them so tight, when we try to take away the thinking, as you just said, or we try to think that every team thinks alike, or we’ll get to the same results at the same times. Yep. isn’t always right.

Bob
That’s right. I think the other thing is most of the time process assumes linearity, like step one, step two, step three, step four, but the real is like sometimes there’s there’s iteration. And there’s phases of work as opposed to steps of work. And so there’s a kind of like divergent thinking and divergent prototypes versus convergent prototypes. And so there’s different ways in which to kind of frame it. But it’s like when you make it so rigid, that it’s a process only that it’s like when this and it’s it gets back to, if I do every step right, then the whole thing’s right. And that’s usually not that way when you’re creating something new.

Greg
And I think that’s what I want to hit on is, if I swing that pendulum way too far over to process and think process is going to fix all my problems. Yes, the things I get are, what we see is things like the process becomes a treadmill, you actually can’t stop it, because it actually forces you to push things through, even though he didn’t hit all the process steps because you don’t have anything else going. That’s correct. Because it’s so cumbersome. It also creates things like burnout from your employees, because they don’t get the opportunity to think or they’re not they don’t think they’re using their skill sets or those types of things with you too heavily over. I think you also have the problem when you get too far over in a process is you get overconfident in your ability to hit the market.

Yep. Right? Because you think everybody did everything right? Even though you’ve compromised the process along the way, sometimes, it doesn’t always equate to a success. Yep. Right. But then if I take that, and I take the same, we look through the same lens, we go over to practice part of the art part or the the customer centric part, or whatever you want to call that, where you give all the freedom and and you just put it doesn’t work either, right? And the reason why it doesn’t work there is now people are discovering a lot, but they’re not moving down a path to get something out. That’s right, right. So we have to balance them. And when we see pure practice places, and sometimes it works, right, there are companies out there, especially startups, that they’re very creative people. And they can make one product or one thing Yep. But when they go to do it again, it’s hard because they don’t, they didn’t learn anything about how the process should work, how they made things, they learn creativity, and when when that passion leaves we often hear people talk about in startup world. Well, it was a passion driven thing. Okay, I’m not 100% Sure, I believe that. But when you’re creative, and you have the creative thing, yes, it does become that and you you rely on that. Yep. And you don’t have the process to actually put push through something that you don’t have the same passion around. Yep. Right. So that’s the problem with just being in that practice part that we call it or art, whatever you wanna call it,

Bob
…but to, what we’re saying is you need both sides, and you need you need the boundaries of the process. But you also need them the freedom inside the process and the creativity inside the process to kind of connect dots and discover unknowns and and kind of move forward. And so there’s that aspect of kind of boundaries, creativity, and then what’s the element of push? What’s the element of making you make progress, which is time and by time boxing, or time walling you literally force yourself to kind of make certain progress steps along the way.

Greg
So what we talk about when we talk about this, as we’re saying is, look, we know we need both, yep. And there’s, you know, if you can make the pendulum straight in the middle, I’m not sure that works, either. What you actually need is a process that allows flexibility from both the team and the manager, and you need strong managers to know when do I need to drive the team for more creativity or more practice? And when do I need to drive the team to more to more process, and there needs to be a sweet spot there. It’s it can’t be a one size fits all for everything. Because if you’re going into a brand new space, it takes more time. It takes more time, it takes more creativity, it takes more discovery, it takes more thing more, more time in some spots than you would want. Yep. So you have to understand those things. That’s why we say, Look, we can’t make a one size fits all. And that’s why we never go in and say hey, this is the process.

What we say is we uncover what Where are you Where do you have to do and then we try to give them metrics to hit in certain stage gates for different things. But know that sometimes I do learnings in Stage Gate to win I’m still in stage gate one. Yep. Because the team needs to do that because of where they’re at. Maybe it’s a new product they’re going after maybe it’s a new, a new category, and they have to learn more. Yep, but by trying to make it so Originally, they can only learn this in this space, or they can only learn that in that space, you’re actually miss opportunities. Yes. So you have to give, you have to have teams that have boundaries of both practice and process. And know as a manager, and as a company, where do I need to push the gas, where’s the gas and the button,

Bob
…it gets back to knowns. And then if there’s a lot of knowns, and you know what to do, then the reality is like, then more process might be useful. But when there’s more unknowns, it’s a different process. And so this is where I go back to every time we talk about a process, there’s two things there’s capability and capacity. And if I have some work, and it’s, let’s say, at the skill level, and I say, alright, it’s going to take two hours to do this work. But I don’t have those people available of different people available, or it’s going to take them five hours to do the work all of a sudden, like, it changes the dynamic. And so what happens, we assume process has similar inputs, similar outputs, and similar capacity, and capability and you start to realise, like, at some point, you need to realise like, the processes structure for boundaries, but ultimately, we have to be able to do and get, make some progress in that step. But ultimately, to prescribe every single step is almost a fool’s errand.

Greg
So it I think, like what I what I want people to realise is we’re not saying you have to have a gazillion processes. No, we’re saying is you have to know when to speed up something, when to slow something down, when to give flexibility, when to give rigidness. Yep, and all that comes from letting the teams do what they do. But then understanding the supply and demand at a level that allows you clarity to say, okay, in your example, if there’s a lot of if there’s a lot of knowns, and I’m just doing a line extension that does it doesn’t really not a lot of thought there. Yep, I might put different people on the team and tell them to go faster. Yes, exactly. Or if I’m, if I’m thinking, hey, we think this is a line extension, but it’s really a whole new thing for us, I might put more of creativity people on it. Yep. And give them more time. Yep. So this is where we’re talking about is the process that needs to have flexibility built into it. It can’t just be a process that, hey, stage one takes three weeks. Stage two takes four weeks, stage four takes three. Like that’s not it could work. I’m not saying it doesn’t work.

Bob
That’s I always say that’s the accounting view of how to run a process, not not a process managers are getting scaled that way. That’s right. They’re trying to get scale when they’re when the scale is not possible in terms of its the thinking, again, we go back to the thinking, as opposed to the execution. Execution is easy when they’re known. It’s the unknown part that makes it hard to execute.

Greg
And then when you when you do this balance of practice and process, it takes a different type of manager. Yep. Because a lot of times you run into managers that are afraid to tell to tell teams, or give teams clarity, yes, they’ll tell teams what to do, yes, but they won’t give clarity of why, or they won’t give clarity of how or they won’t give clarity of what the what’s the end result should be. And we think managers should be spending more time on giving clarity, less and less time on saying, This is how you do it,

Bob
right? The people should know how to do it, it’s more like, here’s where we need to get to, here’s why we need to get there. Here’s the resources that you have, figure it out, and give them give them the leeway to actually use their knowledge and their abilities to figure that out, as opposed to prescribing the way they should figure that out.

Greg
So as a executive, or a manager of a team of teams, you need to be thinking about is you’re making these decisions on changing your process, or you’re making decisions on changing how you manage people, you need to stop and think about why are you doing it? Like, I get reacting to economic conditions, we all have to do it. Yep. Right? But is really the answer, putting more processes in place and hoping you’re gonna get a better result when, however many years your company’s been in business, that Ash actually doesn’t work. That hasn’t worked. And I look at things like and I don’t want to call out particular names. But when I look at companies that do research for final projection of how a company will do or how to launch data, we’ve used that for, I don’t know, 5060 years or whatever. Yeah, a long time. And every time we talk to a team about it, they’re like, Yeah, we have to put it through this, or we have to put it through that. And we’re like, okay, what are the criteria you’re you’re using? Well, we’re going to use this criteria. Is that the criteria that you’re going to actually go with? Are you going to spend $2 million in advertising? No, we never spent $2 million in advertising. Well, then why are you putting that in? Why are

Bob
you making that the assumption is like, well, we need to get it to be this level. And we want to know where it is. And if we put 2 million in then it’s it’s, it’s like we know where it is. And then we’ll we’re gonna then adjust it based on kind of like where we need it to be and it never matches so…

Greg
and that and that’s what that’s what I’m kind of getting to is. We do these things with process and we do these things with this type of stuff, knowing that it hasn’t worked in the past. So can we try a different way? Can we not just react to the one factor? Can we actually look at the hole and say, Okay, well, maybe if it is, economic times are changing, we do have to get a little little bit better on process, maybe we nudge it up. But we don’t go to the extreme to making it where we can eliminate, we think we can eliminate all our people. And we’ll still, we’ll still come up with a great, great product, because the problem is not going to happen, right? You need people to actually do the work. So the process doesn’t do the work. That’s right, people do the work. That’s right. But I can’t get I can’t hire 150 million people and say, Hey, there’s no process, just come up with something great in the next three years. Because then I’m spending a lot of money, I probably won’t get a result. either. They’re going to they’re going to do what they want to do. And they’re not going to get they’re not going to understand what the business needs and what the customer needs. So I have to blend the two.

Bob
Yep, yep. I go back to Deming statement, which was always you know, if you can’t describe what you’re doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing. But it doesn’t mean if you can describe it as a process, you know, what you’re doing a lot of times we describe what we have as a process and it doesn’t work. Right. And so it’s it’s the notion of like, at some point, we have to be able to take the time to understand what we’re trying to do, and realise that the F a standardised formal way of approaching the same thing every time is not necessarily the right way. But it’s about general principles and understanding the principles behind all of it, as opposed to the process behind it.

Greg
So I think I think this episode that we’re really just trying to get people to think again about, why do we do so the

Bob
…balance between process and button, but…

Greg
really more practice more even? A higher level is? Anytime we put something in that why are we doing it? What are we acting? What are we reacting to? And what are we hoping we’re gonna get out of it? And we and they need to unpack that? Because I think sometimes we make decisions, like I said, on on one factor. Yep. And we know one factor at a time anything is usually not good. Because that reproducible for one factor, I eliminate people. Yeah, because I made the process so tight. We don’t think we need as many people, well, another,

Bob
…something else is gonna pop up. Yep, exactly. Right, exactly.

Greg
I can’t go after a new market, because now I don’t have the people to go after it. Exactly. That’s a problem. And it’s probably gonna cost you more money to go hire more people than it would if I just kept the people and understand that maybe I keep people or I lay off some. And I keep the process. But I start doing more process driven innovation stuff, which is the iterations, which is the line extensions, which is the stuff that is faster to get through theoretically, not sure it is, but faster, get through theoretically, and then have a smaller team work on the breakthroughs, where when the economy changes, I might be able to move people through it faster. But I have to understand the people I have and make sure I’m not sacrificing one for the other. I still need people to be able to do both. Yep, I need people that can follow process. And I need people that can think and I just need to be able to put them in the right places to win and give them with the right direction.

Bob
That’s right, and give them the right context in order to kind of execute.

Greg
…so on this one, I think the homework is blurry. So if you have an idea, go for it. If you don’t, I’ll make something up.

Bob
So what I would say is this is that what we’re really trying to do is you really need both process and practice. And so I might look at something where you have a process that’s not working very well, what’s the practice, you need to actually hone and refine in order to make the process run better? And if you might have something that’s a practice that actually doesn’t have enough process around it, can you actually build some process around it to help you actually make the practice better, but to realise that they’re, they go hand in hand and to realise that part of this is to make sure that we have enough latitude that it’s not all process and that it’s not all just practice, but it’s the combination of the two,

Greg
…and they all have time to do it. Yep, yep. As always, thanks for listening and hope to catch you in the next lunch.

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