Design lessons #2: Don’t be afraid of process

August 8, 2020

What does the word Process make you think of? Perhaps a bumbling bureaucracy? Forms signed in triplicate? Slow busy work?

There can be a perception that process is the enemy of progress, something that just ends up getting in the way. In reality, work always follows a process, whether intentional or not. Even if you actively avoid laying down a workflow you will eventually find yourself treading similar steps again and again, entrenching an unplanned process. These emergent workflows tend to be chaotic and inefficient, leaving gaps and wasting effort.

If you’re willing to take a little time and apply a bit of forethought upfront, you can craft a thoughtful process that allows you to achieve better quality and increase your output.

In reality, design is a team sport. Your work lives within a larger web of connections with other team members. Researchers, developers, product, marketing, accessibility — designers work with many different people on every project. Each person on the team contributes something special and adds value to the finished product. Process is the tool that allows you to shepherd the work through this web of contributors effectively and efficiently.

The key to healthy process is to recognize that the process itself is something you’ll need to work on. Good processes don’t just appear out of nowhere, some effort and intention must be invested in developing, sharing, and refining them.

So don’t be afraid to talk about process. Don’t just follow what feels like the path of least resistance. Take a little initiative to set up a workflow that works for you. And if you already have a process, don’t be afraid to tweak it. Process isn’t a burden to carry, it’s a tool you can sharpen and hone to help you.

Some tips for crafting effective processes:

  • Seek input

    Remember, a process is a tool for helping a group of people work together. Make sure you learn from the people involved in your process and adapt it based on their feedback.

  • Become a broken record

    Write your process down. Talk about it in meetings. Mention it in emails. A process does no good if people don’t know about it.

  • Create a shared vocabulary

    Established processes such as agile development or Basecamp’s Shape Up encapsulate their key ideas by naming them: sprint, story, pitch, cycle. Naming a chunk of your process helps to define it more sharply, talk about it more easily, and build more mindshare around it.

  • Wrap tricky steps in timeboxes

    Timeboxes can help avoid spending too much time on any one step of your process. Allowing for variable scope keeps the machine moving regularly.

  • Clearly identify decision makers

    Consensus-driven decisions can bog down any process, and often lead to poorer outcomes. Whenever possible designate a single decision maker and task them with the responsibility to seek out, understand, and incorporate stakeholder input.

At the end of the day, your work follows a process whether it’s one you’ve consciously created or not. Don’t be afraid to commit to adopting a process. Putting a bit of thought and intention into the path your work follows can pay big dividends by making you more efficient in the long run.

— Parker

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