The Five Types of Good Process
5 min read

The Five Types of Good Process

All companies rely on a set of processes to get the work done. But I'm here to stick up for process, done right! Because when you have the right processes in place at your organization, it doesn’t feel like you’re "bogged down with process," or "moving at a glacial pace," "walking in a dinosaur's tracks," "running with a weighted vest on," (all terms I've actually heard). It feels like the organization is humming. Because it is!

Here's an overview of the different kinds of processes I've seen great organizations rely on, why they exist, and how they might be able to help get your organization humming.

Table of contents

  1. Observability: keep an eye on work as it’s happening
  2. Rudder: make small decisions that guide direction
  3. Standards: uphold the quality bar across all the work at a company
  4. Peer perspectives: give/get feedback across the company in a structured way
  5. Turpentine checks: keep an ear to user experience and perception of the product and company

1. Observability Mechanisms

Observability mechanisms help teams keep a pulse on their own work and share that with stakeholders and onlookers… without having to ask. To gut-check on whether your observability mechanisms are good ones, ask yourself, “if someone visited this dashboard with no context on our work, would they leave with an accurate understanding of how things are going?”

Teams benefit by building better (and shared) literacy for how things are going, generate the perspective that helps them notice trends, and even catch small aberrations before they become big mistakes. Over time, they also create an artifact of the team’s progress over time.

Stakeholders benefit because they have visibility on how the work is progressing… without having to ask. We’ve all had that “CEO is pinging about x, get all hands on deck,” and “Y from team A is checking on x, can you share an update?” moments. These mechanisms get ahead of those interruptions and promote visibility on work by making information reliably available to the rest of the organization proactively.

It’ll also show curious onlookers what their colleagues are up to, and what kind of impact they’re driving, which facilitates meaningful cross-company connections and pride in the collective work.

Examples: dashboards, snippets/5:15's

Typical forum qualities

  • Host: workstream owner
  • Cadence: depends
  • Format: asynchronous
  • Content owner: workstream owner
  • Escalation/final decision maker/approver: closest leader

2. Rudder Mechanisms

Even the best-laid plans will require many, many adjustments as the work progresses and the team learns new things. Like adjusting a rudder to steer a boat, the small movements made in the-run-of-work (especially those early in the work’s life) will have a meaningful impact on where the project ends up.

Rudder forums help workstream owners make ongoing decisions that drive towards the outcomes of the plan, often with the support of others around the organization. They’re also a great opportunity to share and discuss learnings from the ground-floor with reviewers and onlookers.

Remember, asking to see work is not an implicit criticism or a breach of trust. It is a signal that you care about your users, your products, and your team.  If you run these forums well, they can build trust and maintain a shared view of the state and direction of work across the team. They can also train participants to make better decisions in the future that will help everyone move faster, ship better, and help others do the same.

Examples: leadership meeting, check-in’s on plans (like QBRs), product reviews

Typical forum qualities

  • Host: company/team leader
  • Cadence: regular
  • Format: asynchronous
  • Content owner: workstream owner
  • Escalation/final decision maker/approver: closest leader

3. Standards Mechanisms

All the company’s work must uphold the values and standards of the company. Not some of the work; all of the work. Standards forums ensure work upholds these standards before it’s shown to users (reminder: users can be internal or external, and quality for both is equally important even if the standards manifest differently).

It’s critical to be discerning about when in a project’s life it comes to a standards forum; focusing on polish too early can be a huge time-waster for teams. For any standards forum, build clear principles and guidelines for what work must come to the forum, when it should come, who the approver is, and how to present the work to the approver. Team, organization, and company leaders should own the creation of the forums and how to interact with them.

Standards reviews can be as lightweight as a ping to a Slack channel (good for copy reviews, for example) or as heavyweight as a meeting with a rotating agenda of projects about to launch (good for product reviews, for example). They can be opt-in (employees know to raise their hand for a review when a project reaches a certain state) or requested (employees are asked to come to review).

This is a place where it’s very easy to add bottle-necks and over-process your organization. Start with the things that you care the most about getting right; or conversely, you think could be the most harmful if you get wrong.

Examples: launch review, code review

Typical qualities

  • Host: company/team leader
  • Cadence: as needed
  • Format: depends
  • Content owner: workstream owner
  • Escalation/final decision maker/approver: closest leader, appointed standard-bearer

4. Peer Perspectives

Your organization is full of incredible people with a rich diversity of skills, experiences, and perspectives. Peer perspectives mechanisms establish norms to help your people take advantage of that in their work.

These mechanisms also help teams stay focused because inquiries and feedback are consolidated to blocks of time specifically allocated to it.

Examples: office hours, Q&A, dogfooding

Typical forum qualities

  • Host: project leader
  • Cadence: as needed
  • Format: depends
  • Content owner: workstream owner
  • Escalation/final decision maker/approver: closest leader

5. Turpentine Checks

Picasso said, “when art critics get together they talk about Form and Structure and Meaning. When artists get together they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine.” Great organizations are obsessed with turpentine.

Turpentine is what is really going on at the one-inch altitude. It’s not the generic, cliched, shape of it observed from 10,000 feet. Even the smartest, most thoughtful, best-intentioned people won’t get it right without the ground-level perspective and visceral sense of what is.

Still not crystal clear on why turpentine matters? Pixar’s research trips are a great example. When making Ratatouille, the entire crew visited restaurant kitchens in Paris to get a feel for them. Ed Catmull credited these trips with the “obsessive specificity” of the kitchen scenes; the sound of clogs on the tiles, how chefs held their arms while chopping, and more. It’s why those scenes feel so real when you see them on the silver screen.

Turpentine makes the product and culture better. Getting neck-deep versus ankle-deep into the minds of users and watering holes of the problem space makes the work more rewarding because employees can feel their impact and hone their instincts for what to put into the world.

The entire organization should be posting to and reading from these channels all the time.

Examples: user feedback tune-in, watering hole tune-in, everybody does tickets

Typical forum qualities

  • Host: project leader
  • Cadence: ongoing
  • Format: depends
  • Content owner: workstream owner
  • Escalation/final decision maker/approver: closest leader

If you're looking for more examples or are ready to put some of these processes into action, there's a whole lot more on the topic here.