Process Design

(or: be careful what you incentivise)


When we design processes, we are heavily biased to design processes that we would be successful in. We see this with hiring processes, and we see this with promotion processes. You might think having multiple people would help with this but this seems just as likely to create the very narrow process that set of people would all be successful at.

Feedback on processes will also come from this bias. This doesn’t mean that it should be ignored, but does mean that it needs to be analysed critically and different questions asked.

Processes need to be compatible. If you have a hiring process and a promotion process and you will hire people into roles you wouldn’t promote them into, and promote people into roles you wouldn’t hire them into… something is wrong with one or the other, but most likely both.

Your process encodes your values in the things that it incentivises. Any process that involves stack ranking incentivises diminishing others. When you incentivise technical complexity you tend to get a lot of it… not all of it necessary. If you have a process that makes it hard-to-impossible to hire people managers… you will end up with poor management.

How do we minimises the process? In hiring I ask: what are the minimum things that we need to see someone being capable of. And then ask: how is this person great? People need to be able to function on the team, but we also want people who will add to the team in new ways – ways that can (and should) vary per person.

In asking people to take on more responsibility I ask, who makes the whole team better? Technical capability doesn’t go very far unless people engage and pass it on. But interpersonal skills are not always sufficient to get things moving.

It’s easier as we grow to create ever more process – sometimes with the ideal of fairness – but actually what that gives us is a longer list of things to selectively apply, and more and more reasons to say no.

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