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Good dev process, bad dev process

What makes a good product release process versus a bad one?

Process weight continuum

Thick process slows things down with the aim of reducing risk. In software this usually takes the shape of lots of review boards, stakeholders, or committees that review any changes affecting a live product. It seems typical of giant corporations who do not want to disrupt steady flow of revenue or other success metrics. Thick process tends to ensure more consistency, which is important when you’re building an airplane, but it also can strangle creativity and morale, because it doesn’t leave enough room for innovation. Thick process is what causes people to call an organization bureaucratic. Thick process is “red tape”.

Lightweight process, or sometimes no process, on the other hand, is volatile for better and worse. Light process tends to be the way that many startups get up and running: Being scrappy, frenetic production, not abiding to norms, and just getting done what needs to be done, checklists or reviews be damned. But these traits can feel anarchic and also demoralize team members. If it seems like there’s no central direction or organizing force, it feels confusing and stressful if you’re not sure how things come together. “Just launch! Launch! Launch! ” mentality can be invigorating but also just result in bad product that nobody wants.

Good process is a balance between the two poles, it leaves room for individual team members to be creative, but ensures quality. Bad process skews to one side.

Return on Process

This is the answer to the question “Exactly what do you gain with this set of rules for launching a new feature?”. Any new process should be viewed with the suspicion and made to prove itself.

All process comes at the cost of time and therefore money. There is often opportunity cost for not launching, like if you delay for an extra week of QA.

There is also a substantial cost to launching something that breaks your core product.

Good process yields a high return for the time and energy the team devotes to abiding by a set of rules to make something and ship it. Bad process just costs.

Posted on Dec 6
Written by Nick Roberts