Lean Manufacturing people go around saying “it’s always a process problem.”
Meanwhile Gerry Weinberg, who wrote several books that I love, and gives lots of great advice, including the some of the best advice I’ve ever read about how to give advice, says “every problem is a people problem.”
So, which is it?
Are bad things that happen the result of bad processes, are they the result of things people do?
I’ve been party to a bit of discussion about this in the last month or two, and in the end it’s all pretty silly.
Processes are created by people, implemented by people, and are designed to accomplish the goals of people.
People run processes!
So, whenever something is broken, it’s people who will need to find the problem and fix it.
People can and do think of ways to improve processes everyday, but I’ll eat my shoe if you find a process that thinks of a way to improve people.
But there’s still a HUGE problem.
When something goes wrong, fire some people, and replace them with new people who make the same mistakes all over again.
Sometimes you “get lucky”.
More often than not though, the poor new guy doesn’t see the systematic pressures that caused everything to fall apart, at least not until it’s too late.
Sometimes replacing what’s broken isn’t enough.
Sometimes it’s the equivalent of a mechanic replacing your car’s engine several times in a row, because it keeps burning up — without ever checking to make sure oil is flowing normally, and the cooling system is working.
The easy way out.
It’s often easier to blame people because they don’t “control” them they way they do the context. This blame game is as old as the hills, but definitely not as pretty.
Help people fix processes
The solution is to ask people to look for the systematic pressures, give them the tools to find them, and to empower them to change the way work gets done.
In the end, people will improve the processes, if they believe they are allowed.
Sometimes a design isn’t working because you think you can’t change the one element that needs to be changed.
The same thing is true when you are designing the processes by which work gets done.