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Grassroots Process

Avoid creating processes, especially ones that only serve management. When it is absolutely required, rely on people close to the work to propose and design it. The longer you can hold off, the faster your team will be, especially over the long run.

September 26th 2017

by Michael Karampalas

in Teamwork

As your company and team scales, it’s natural to think about implementing new processes to help you control, coordinate, or communicate. As workload and output increase, it becomes harder and harder to stay on top of it all. You used to know every single product update, bug fix, or marketing initiative, and now code is being shipped daily. You feel completely out of the loop.

The solution must be more process, right?


Resist the urge for more process as long as possible. Be extra wary of implementing anything that solely benefits management. People removed from the day-to-day work (i.e. you) typically underestimate the cost of the overhead absorbed by a new process relative to its benefit. The actual cost is typically much higher than you think.

As a rule of thumb, only implement a process desired and created by the people who will be directly impacted.

If you wait for requests for new process to emerge from the people being affected, you can be confident that the benefits outweigh the cost. People directly involved in the work also have the most complete understanding of the problems with the existing setup, and are best equipped to design a new process to address them. Also, mandated process is never adopted with the same enthusiasm as one designed and built by the team.

To be successful at avoiding process, learn to be comfortable with feeling a little out of the loop. That can be really hard if you feel insecure or have pressure coming down from above. It’s even harder when more process will seemingly give you a greater sense of ease and control. You need to overcome your fear of uncertainty and trust your team.

When Process is Needed

If things get too chaotic for comfort, or you’re noticing clear issues due to lack of process, go ahead and implement something new—but thoughtfully. Once you determine new process is absolutely critical, avoid designing and implementing it on your own. Speak with the people close to the work and explain the problems plus your goals and expectations.

Help them understand the pain that the organization is feeling. Don’t prescribe a solution. Give your team the problem and challenge them to come up with one instead. The end result will be a process that both addresses your needs and reflects a realistic accounting of the actual work involved.


Processes created by management and others removed from the front lines are, at best, a guess. They miss the context and nuance of the actual situation. They often oversimplify things or, alternatively, over-complicate them. Many unnecessary and bloated processes are the result of management edict. Processes that result from collaborative team creation tend to be leaner.

Cumulative Process Debt

If you can hold off on creating additional process, you will be able to move faster than other companies your size, and more importantly, than your competitors.

Since process accumulates over time, the longer you can wait to implement it, the further ahead you will be of the competition. If you have less process and bureaucracy, there is less of a “tax” on your work. As you and your competitors grow larger—and slower—avoiding process will help you adapt quickly to customer and market changes.

If your competition is adding process at 2x the rate you are, you will develop a growing speed advantage over them. As they accumulate more and more process debt over the years, while you don’t, your efficiencies will only widen the gap between you and them.

Your ability to deliver value to users faster and to react more nimbly to market changes could ultimately determine whether your company succeeds or fails. Don’t let unnecessary process get in your way.

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