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Are you a Process Person?

“Are you a process person”? Have you ever been asked that, perhaps at a job interview? I, thankfully have not. I have, however been told by other people that they are “a process person.” Usually when I am told this, it is with a sense of pride or affirmation. The question then occurs to me, “What is a process person”? I think that most people would agree to the following definition:

“Someone who utilizes documented and repeatable processes to achieve a goal or result.”

By this definition, I consider myself a process person. However, there is another definition, a definition “of practice.” I have come to the following definition of what a process person is by real-world observation of self-described “process people.”

“Someone who focuses totally on process. Someone who sees the process as the end result and defines success as the successful implementation of the process.”

Some will read this second definition and be confused. Many will read it and say to themselves, “But if the process is implemented correctly, then the goal(s) is achieved.” When stated in this manner, the fallacy of this statement is fairly obvious. A process is a means to an end, not an end unto itself. Still many people define the success of their projects by the processes they incorporate.

A major problem seems to be in establishing goals. For the process person defined by the first definition, which I prefer to call a “goal person”, the goal is identified early and is usually something like “create x number of widgets” or “establish an IT service desk”. For the goal person, successful completion of the project is defined as the attainment of the objective. For the process person identified in the second definition, the goal starts out the same but quickly morphs into the successful implementation of a process. The original goal of creating widgets or establishing the service desk takes second tier to the process. Such people often have a pre-defined process which they will plug into given situations.

Projects usually fail for one of two reasons; either the process was not implemented faithfully or the process itself is flawed. Process people as I define them in my second definition almost always immediately blame the former and never the latter. This inability to acknowledge a flawed process seriously inhibits their ability to objectively analyze and solve the reasons for a failed project.

A self-described process person once told me that she would rather have good processes than good people any day. I could not disagree more. While good processes makes all of our live easier, in my opinion good people can achieve any goal successfully regardless of good, bad or no processes. Bad people on the other hand can almost always fail, good, bad or no processes.

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