Friday, November 6, 2009

The Importance of Process

The culmination of a website is often the last step in a process for a team. A large project can entail numerous steps: initiating and funding a new project, documenting requirements, creating mockups or wireframes, deciding where the information/data will come from, designing the data structure, determining security and roles, determining governance around the site/application, who owns or is responsible for the content, who is the project approver, what is the ROI, and many, many more. All this process before the website or application is even built!

I hear all the time how grueling the IT process can be and I am questioned constantly on how to circumvent this process, by either breaking a project up into smaller projects, outsourcing, going open source, or some other means. All I can say is, if the project is truly a viable project that will bring value to either customers or employees, it will withstand the process and move forward.

Wikipedia describes the importance of process: “Process is a fundamental tool for carrying out community consensus, and for allowing a very large number of people to work together on a collaborative project. Process is also the mechanism by which users can trust that others are playing fair, that the rules do not suddenly change, nor are they different for some privileged editors. Poor process or no process ultimately harms the product.”

At my company, my team evolved from being a stand-alone group nearly excluded from IT processes, to moving more inline with the rest of IT. And I must say, it’s not an effort that has gone unnoticed by our customers. In fact, I think the growing pains have proven to be quite difficult in some groups where they had so much freedom in the past; it now seems the process is limiting their creative outlet. But I look at it a different way because I’ve seen the results of websites and applications that were thrown together on a whim as well as those clearly thought out with executive support. Websites that get thrown together quickly end up going through numerous hours of rework. On average, the sites I’ve worked on that were not clearly thought out by the project initiator as to their purpose, audience, and scope, were 3-4 times more costly in terms of hours spent reworking the site. Furthermore, it stands to reason that sites that get built with no foresight or strategy also lack follow-thru in that they rarely are maintained on a regular basis. Instead, they just take up space on the server and typically visitation drops off after its initial launch. Applications are worse, because lack of planning and due diligence affects not only our team, but possibly several other teams. Take my 3-4 times more hours and multiply that by seven other teams and you’ll see how much waste is involved in an unplanned project.

Process isn’t instilled to stifle creative output. It’s there to ensure only quality, top-notch creative output is presented to customers. Additionally, in the case of the web, process is there to protect you with highly available servers, proper security and firewall rules, well-defined database architecture and maintenance, and a 24x7 support staff ready to keep everything running smoothly. When you break the process, you run a risk of loosing one or all of these things and presenting poor workmanship to customers. I think people tend to take it personally when a project is scrutinized or deemed unrealistic, but realize this scrutiny empowers you to grow even better ideas, helps the company produce a higher quality product and builds long-lasting relationships with customers as they grow to trust in your workmanship.