There are numerous quotes about prioritizing the journey over the destination. They go something like this (to cite a couple):
“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” -Greg Anderson
“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” -Arther Ashe
This approach is useful for many aspects of life. Like, when you are on a long road trip with your kids – “Kids, it’s really about this long ass, boring drive, not about getting there.” Or maybe cleaning the house – “You know, I am fortunate to have this goddam hovel to clean instead of being done and doing something cool.” Or even at an HOA meeting – “Thank goodness I am here with these nuts instead of running them over with my van as I speed away.”
But in business. Fuck. That. You can shove that journey right up the ol’ bum. I came here to accomplish something.
I have been accused (more so recently) of being anti-process. For the record – and let it be known by all – I am not anti-process. I am anti-blockage. I f*cking hate blockages. There is some sort of chemical reaction in my body that occurs when a blockage appears between me, or any well-meaning person, and a goal. I hate being blocked, and I hate my team being blocked. I started this company 15 years ago to accomplish a goal. I got out of bed this morning and came to work to accomplish a goal. And, the people around me did the same. If a process enables that goal efficiently, bring it on, I will love it and will subscribe to it wholeheartedly. But if it even slightly blocks me or my team, I’m just gonna work right around that process. I did NOT come here for the journey.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a good process. Everytime I fly in an airplane, I give thanks to the gods of engineering process and shudder thinking about someone with my temperament just throwing that winged bitch together. My kids are better off being educated in the process established by the public school system. Homeschool for us would be a chaotic mess of control theory for 10-year olds, clinical psychology, and mogul skiing. I also appreciate the QC process of online stores. One time I ordered an original pressing of The Queer’s “‘Beat Off” album and I got “Bibleman Vol. 3” instead, while the Texan customer that ordered “Bibleman Vol. 3” got my vintage copy of “Beat Off”. I am sure a process somewhere could have helped that cultural cacophony from ever happening.
But the thing is, the process should be just enough to enable success without blocking in anyway. It needs to be appropriate and right-sized. It has to enable the destination 100% and not create a journey. It should solve a problem, not create one. When appropriate, the process will document a successful journey to a destination versus creating a prescribed journey so that others can repeat it, or even improve upon it, efficiently.
Greensea is going through a period (several years now) of pretty aggressive growth. We grew by 53% in 2019, 26% in 2020 (thanks pandemic), and we are on track for another 50% growth year in 2021. Of course, personnel has grown substantially, too. We have more people, more managers, and more locations. Our stake in the industry has grown. Our programs are more prominent and our products are more widely used. OPENSEA, our software platform, is everywhere. While to me, we are still just a bunch of folks showing up everyday to create cool shit and Move the F#%king Ball for our collaborators, there is a legitimate case to be made for needing a tad of process.
From day-one, Greensea has had respectful processes for developing, managing, and testing software. But, from day-one we have also shunned some processes in favor of letting adults manage themselves like adults, allowing our staff to Move the F#%king Ball, and allowing our collaborations to be nimble and successful. Just like every company out there (if they are being honest), we have suffered some quality issues due to a missing process or procedure. But by not paralyzing our staff with a culture of process, we have empowered them to fix those issues rapidly and sustainably, implementing just the needed steps to ensure the issue never occurs again, while taking accountability without fear of reprimand.
As we grow, Greensea is adopting more processes to allow for scalability, better resource management, greater financial structure, and more sustainable governance. To grow responsibly and provide a great environment for staff, process is necessary. To scale a company, process is unavoidable. To ensure quality, a process is mandatory. But, too much process can be crippling to creativity, personal accountability, and growth. In our own trajectory, we have processed ourselves to silliness sometimes. It takes nothing short of a board resolution to buy a screwdriver these days. And at least 19 people have to sign off on something before we can ship it to a customer.
We edge up to the line, cross it, correct, and back off. I think one of the easiest ways to tell if we have over-processed ourselves is by watching our employees. When someone starts ducking ropes to get things done, we are blocking them and something needs to change. Our staff is committed to providing a good product and to making our collaborations successful, so if they start skirting a process to be successful, that process isn’t working and needs to be revised. I ask my staff to ask themselves this simple question when they think a process is needed: “What problem is it solving, really?” If there isn’t one – let it ride. When a successful and efficient journey to a destination is found, document that, do it again, teach others, and call it a process.
I don’t know why companies adopt a culture of process. This seems to be driven by managers confusing leadership for process. The absence of process is not necessarily the absence of management, and the presence of process is not necessarily the presence of management. In our company, managers have three responsibilities:
- Establish clear goals
- Establish clear parameters
- Remove blockages for the team.
I feel management should establish the destination so that the organization has focus. The journey will be obvious, discovered, or created as a process by the staff driving to the goal. Focusing on the journey seems to obfuscate the reason we all come to work everyday – to achieve a goal.
Now, before anyone starts sending me links to Agile-this and Lean-that and Engineering-blah, blah, blah, settle down. I’m not suggesting engineering or even the practice of business should be willy-nilly. Far from. What I do believe is that smart people who want to get shit done can adopt a process that delivers success, that is on time for the problem it is solving, that is right-sized for their organization, and that is tailored to their company’s culture. They can still reach a successful and safe destination, just maybe without the protracted journey. So, keep counting your beads but keep your name-brand processes to yourself, they may not be a great fit for my company.