Aug 23 2012

Process vs. outcome

I’ve had a few conversations recently about the right balance between process and outcome. I’ve been involved with a group that’s been very (very) process focused- which has lead to some great discussion, but has hampered action/outcome and it’s got me thinking about where the balance lies between the two.

When I was younger (and apparently somewhat more patient)  I was much more process oriented. Outcome alone as the measure of success wasn’t enough  – there needed to be a solid process behind it. I’m reminded of my days at a Quaker camp in Vermont where we’d hold lengthy “town meetings” to make decisions. All decisions were made by consensus and often discussions on relatively mundane topics extended for hours. But it was truly the process that mattered the most –the outcome was secondary.

I’ve also been in organizations where the opposite was true. Often there was no process at all – or only a process that was specifically designed to get to a single outcome (and worse – make us feel like we somehow had input). That was efficient in decision making, but mercurial and very few voices actually were heard (and a a result, while decisions were made quickly, they weren’t always the best decision and certainly didn’t reflect the collective expertise of the group).

But I don’t think the balance is in the middle. To me, outcome is more important and should be weighted higher. The process should support decision making (although not be designed to reach only one conclusion – there’s no benefit in that) but shouldn’t take over. Not everyone needs to be heard on every decision and there needn’t’ be “process checks” every 30 minutes.  Everyone should understand going in what the process is going to look like and consistency and adherence to what you say your going to do is probably the most important aspect of making a process work.

I’m curious your experience with this.