Does Your Process Scale?

Processes, like systems, have to scale both vertically and horizontally.

We know that the systems we build have to perform under pressure. So, if we’re smart (and not so burdened that we are just barely getting things out the door), we do load testing, concurrency testing, scalability testing and all the other things that help us to ensure that our products can step confidently out of the development ecosystem and handle the workaday rigors of production use.

What about our processes? Often, we test a new process or methodology in isolation, on some low-risk demo project . We see how things work. We fidget, tweak, and tune. Eventually, we add enough and subtract enough get the process humming along, until it’s just right (or at least good enough). Then, we say that we nailed down our process.

However, sometimes we forget that our process has to scale, just like our systems. Can the project management process you defined work for seven simultaneous projects all managed by the same PM? If it consumed most of the PM’s time on your simple demo project, what is going to happen to it when you try to apply it on a program or department level scale? What about those design artifacts you created for the demo project? It was nice to have class diagrams, sequence diagrams, stakeholder profiles and data dictionaries for the demo project, but can you sustain that level of documentation for your marquee product, the one that keeps eight developers continuously occupied?

Your systems have to scale, but your process does too. Use one that you can sustain consistently across the breadth of your concerns, given your available resources. Just because something worked on a demo project does not mean it will survive a collision with the rest of the stuff on your plate. Organizations often design processes for vertical scalability (adjusting the rigor and demands to the size of the effort), but fewer think about scaling horizontally (ensuring that you can still apply the process to many efforts of a similar size).

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