Navigating the Waters of Organizational Operations: The Essence of Process (1)

Navigating the Waters of Organizational Operations: The Essence of Process (1)

In the realm of organizational operations, the mantra of “process, process, process” is often echoed by leaders. Or, on the opposite end, leaders could be extremely allergic to the process and believing it hinders innovation.

Understanding that not all processes are created equal is crucial. Mere bureaucracy arises when processes lack purpose. A good process goes beyond ticking boxes; it promotes transparency, facilitates success measurement, and informs the entire organization.

Why Process Matters

Processes, when well-designed, serve as more than just procedural guidelines. They act as beacons of transparency, providing a roadmap for teams to follow. A well-defined process allows organizations to track and measure success, fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

Improving Processes Across  the Organizations, with tooling

There are many aspects to improving processes. In this post, we focus on tooling, specifically internal process-driven tooling. To understand the importance of tooling, we begin with an understanding of the org structure.

It is common for different organizations to have different structures and processes. But there are two main elements worth focusing on.

1- Product development (of course, this is the bread and butter for the org that makes products bringing in revenue)

2- Infrastructure and operations (this is less obvious, but the well-oiled machine is what enables engineering and other functions to be highly productive.

For example, according to Gregely Orosz (2023), Stripe’s hundreds of teams are structured around these two areas. The product team builds products on top of the infrastructure, similar to Uber’s structures around program and platform teams.

Engineers focus hours hours on development and developing software for customers. But a less noticeable element is internal tooling/software. Similarly to building infrastructure, internal tooling enables all teams beyond the engineering team function to be highly productive. For example at VMware, I’ve seen internal tools from allocation, to accessibility review, to professional development and many more. These tools bring all different departments and business units of the organization together.

It takes time for a company to beef up its internal tooling. However, it is something worth the investment. Keep in mind that internal software is built to enhance the operation of the company. Builds the foundation for scaling. Internal processes WILL change as the company scales, and the internal software should be able to scale as the company scales. similar to the core software offerings, internal software has its life cycle. Developing internal software is software development. And it can start scrappy, simple. (Note: balancing out-of-the-box solutions vs. custom solutions is important.)


Case Study: Cloudflare’s — standardizing process across the company with external and internal software

At Cloudflare, an example of effective process integration is witnessed through the weekly product sync. The use of external and internal tools illustrates the importance of integrating both external and internal tools to streamline organizational processes. Cloudflare’s approach involves using external tools like Jira for project tracking while developing internal tools and dashboards for weekly product sync meetings. These tools enhance visibility, foster collaboration, and ensure efficient progress tracking across distributed teams. The emphasis is on maintaining transparency and adapting processes to scale without compromising core principles, ultimately leading to a harmonious blend of productivity and employee satisfaction.

Product Team’s Approach

Let’s start with the product team and engineering team. Tracking software development with external tools such as Jira by the product team is common. However, sometimes, external software doesn’t take the process to the finish line. This is when the internal tooling becomes helpful.

For example, Jira is a common tool utilized by product development teams. However, before the Jira advanced roadmap, although each discipline tracked projects with the same tool, it was very hard to see the overall progress among tens and hundreds of teams.

Building Tools and Dashboards for Weekly Discussions

The internal product engineering team takes the initiative to construct specialized tools and dashboards. These serve as dynamic platforms, orchestrating weekly discussions that parallel the structure of traditional product standups(focusing on small teams). This approach facilitates more than just routine updates within individual teams; it establishes a collaborative space for in-depth discussions and visibility of product development across the entire product org. The tools and dashboards act as a centralized hub, providing a panoramic view of the status of various tickets. This collective awareness ensures that team members are well-informed about ongoing tasks, fostering a shared understanding of the overall progress.

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The weekly discussions serve as a forum for addressing challenges and blockers. This proactive engagement with obstacles allows the team to strategize solutions and maintain the momentum of ongoing projects swiftly. It transforms the project tracking process from a mere formality into a dynamic problem-solving session.

Beyond the functional aspects, this approach can cultivate a collaborative atmosphere within the product team. The weekly discussions provide a platform for team members to share insights, exchange ideas, and collectively contribute to the success of each project. It transcends the traditional boundaries of task assignment, promoting a culture of mutual support and shared responsibility.

Noted: The ticketing system adopted by the product team is designed with a distributed workforce in mind. Given the separation of engineers, product management, and design into distinct organizational units, the system accommodates the need for each group to track their individual velocity, progress, and allocation. Creating different ticket types becomes unnecessary in scenarios where organizational embedding is in place (such as the agile squad model.)

The ticketing system’s overarching goal is visibility. By streamlining progress tracking, the system caters to the specific needs of a distributed workforce, ensuring that each organizational unit can efficiently monitor and report on its respective objectives.

Centered on Visibility

Throughout this approach, the overarching goals for the tickets remain centered on visibility. The tracking system functions as more than a record-keeping tool; it is a dynamic mechanism capable of exposing progress, highlighting challenges, and informing both the internal team and external stakeholders. This emphasis on visibility reinforces the notion that, in the realm of effective project management, informed decision-making is rooted in a comprehensive understanding of ongoing processes.


Adapting to Scale: Evolution without Compromise

As companies scale, what worked before may need adjustments. Yet, the fundamental belief in transparency and effective processes should remain unwavering. Tools may evolve, and processes may adapt, but the core principles of fostering transparency and efficiency should endure.

In the intricate dance of organizational operations, it’s not just about following processes for the sake of it. It’s about choreographing them thoughtfully, ensuring they lead the organization toward a harmonious blend of productivity, transparency, and employee satisfaction.

In Part 2, I’d like to delve into processes that span the entire organization. Through a case study, I’ll illustrate effective strategies for promoting visibility throughout the company.

References

Orosz, G. (n.d.). Inside Stripe’s Engineering Culture—Part 1. Retrieved May 29, 2024, from https://newsletter.pragmaticengineer.com/p/stripe

Image credit: ThisisEngineering

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