Gwen Windflower/artist+analyst

Process is layers of structure

Note: I developed this into an article.

Structure is what, when, where, why, and how to do a thing. For example, proposals go in a certain Notion database, they use a specific template, they require certain metadata. Structure is used to create clarity, which empowers independent action. When you’ve got clarity you can move faster.

Process is layers of structure. It involves gatekeeping to move from one layer to the next. It’s used in an attempt to control outcomes and make work more repeatable (or more likely, repetitive). Control slows things down. You can put a restricter on an engine to ensure it doesn’t exceed 30 mph. The consequence is you won’t go more than 30 mph.

People in tech very often confuse these two concepts as one thing. As a company grows they sense things slowly down, and reach for every CEO’s favorite scapegoat: process. In fear of creating process, they refuse to own their responsibility to create structure.

Unfortunately, both of these things are necessary for organized action. We want to maximize structure and minimize process, but we need some of both. The consequence of the chaos that ensues from lacking both is that every team creates their own structure and process out of necessity. Now not only do you have too much process, you have too many.

Tech leaders need to spend more time creating unified structure and norms, and understand that’s not the same thing as process. Give people an organized way to work and understand the movement of the organization, but make it as flat as you can and don’t require any more layers of approval than you have to.

Your employees will thanks you, and the less power they wield in your organization, the more grateful they will be for the increase in leverage that a high structure, low process environment provides.