An Agile Paradox: People over Process (part 1)

The agile manifesto says we focus on “people over processes”.

And I think that’s the right thing to do, people are ultimately more important than processes. But, at the same time, there’s a paradox to be thought through here, because focusing your management efforts on people can be counterproductive. flowchartIf you focus on people it’s easy to blame them for failures, to try to change them, and to loose sight of the processes which got you the wrong people, or which made it difficult or impossible for the right people to do the right thing.

In fact much of the benefit of the Lean/Six Sigma camps comes from the notion that you pretty much always get better results if you always assume it’s a process problem, and try to improve the processes.

The solution to the People over Process paradox is easy enough:

Good managers lead by creating an environment where people are empowered, in other words they lead by focusing on a different kind of processes. Processes which put people in charge, and which encourage learning and self-correction. That might sound hard, but really it’s not as complicated as you think. For, example Toyota has thrived by creating a “metaprocess” which gives every employee power over the day to day processes of their job. These meta-processes which make standards of work clear, and make it the team’s responsibility to relentlessly and ceaselessly continue to improve those standards. Employees are expected to think, and to act on a regular basis to improve the way things are done. And they are ultimately “in control” of the processes which govern their work.

If you focus on the right metaprocess, you won’t get into the kind of “process problems” that the agile manifesto was written to combat. Processes will be owned by the people doing the work, not imposed from above, and they will be adjusted continuously to meet the daily needs of the project.

Processes must serve people. But at the same time people following good processes — and even more importantly good process improvement processes — are more productive than people with no process. So, removing process isn’t the answer to “People over process” it’s providing people with control over the processes, and with a well defined way to improve those processes.

2 Responses to “An Agile Paradox: People over Process (part 1)”

  1. 1Michael Audley

    Where did the concept “People over process” come from.



    PS I heard someone say recently “don’t process me.”

  2. The Agile Manifesto has a line saying “[we have come to value:] Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. Which has often been summarized as “people over process.”

    The agile manifesto was written in 2001 by a number of thought leaders in the software industry, in order to codify some of the things they had learned about managing software development projects over the years.

    The manifesto itself is actually very short, and can be found here:

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