The Process is not a Shield

Healthy processes, consistently followed are instrumental to a well functioning company. In tech companies, especially software engineering, there are many packaged processes for developing software (popular ones being Agile, Scrum, Waterfall, and Shape Up). These processes are structured, with rituals and activities that the team engages in to successfully complete the goal. This structure is often comforting, particularly for a more junior contributor. It is clear what you are working on and what should be worked on. This order also aligns well with the way many engineers think. If I do the things assigned to me according to the process, I will have done a good job. Unfortunately, it is not that black and white. The process is a tool to achieve positive outcomes and prevent negative ones. However, it is not a shield from the results of those outcomes. On a company scale, suppose your company has a perfect SDLC process that every team member follows religiously. However, when the company builds the wrong thing, or builds it too slowly, it is not spared from the outcomes of the market when a competitor builds a better product or delivers faster. One could argue that process failed (to identify market fit or competitor activity) and therefore wasn’t perfect. While this may be true, the point is that process is not the goal, the goal is the goal. Your process should help you reach the goal, but failing to get there with perfect process leaves you with nothing.

While a more junior team member is often shielded by the process. It’s important to realize that as the person becomes more senior, the process becomes less and less of a shield. The reasons are two-fold: as a more senior person your goals will be loftier and you will “own” more of the goal. With that ownership you should be less focused on the increments of the process and more focused on the goal. Secondly, a more senior person has more influence over the process itself and therefore more responsibility to mend it before failures. A corollary to the above, the more a person hides, or wants to hide, behind process the more junior their mentality, regardless of title or tenure.