Revisiting Process

~ by Randy Wagner

We did not arrive at our current processes by chance. Whatever the process—whether it is how we use the agile methodology for our project, defect management, or any of the other major and minor processes we follow on a daily basis—it is a result of best practice, team experience, and management priorities. However, that’s not to say we have created the best process. Sometimes good ideas create negative consequences and correcting them can have great impact.

One Decision Can Have Serious Unintended Consequences

In the 1930s, wolves were intentionally killed off as an undesirable predator from Yellowstone National Park. Intentions were good but the understanding of the environment was terribly limited. The entire ecosystem began a downhill slide which resulted in an overpopulation of elk, excessive consumption of plant life which loosened soil and drove out beavers who used to create ponds that retained water and provided a habitat for fish and other wildlife. The weakened physical environment then caused more erosion and volatility in the path of the river. Migratory birds, no longer able to feed as they were accustomed, changed their migration paths.

In 1995, Yellowstone reintroduced the Grey Wolf and in the subsequent three decades, all of those issues have returned to their healthy, natural state. Migration paths have returned to the park, beavers have smoothed out the flow of water, and all of the detrimental effects of the original decision appear to be ameliorated.

It’s Important to Remember Why a Process Exists

In our work environments, some process changes are dependent on team members who come and go or are a result of specific pain points that crop up and/or fade over time. Nothing stays the same for very long. If a team moves away from good refinement, we see more questions in the scrum calls or rework that appears during demos or Product Owner acceptance. A lack of good unit testing will impact the defect cycles.  If QA becomes more dependent on the Dev view of the requirement, then we start to see more Production defects.

Evaluate a Process Based on the Immediate and Downstream Results

It’s important to recognize that the symptoms are not the disease. Too often we try to cure the symptoms without recognizing the root cause. Process changes have ripple effects, as noted above, and it is critical to think through whether a proposed change is solving the core problem or just a symptom of a larger problem. Look at the processes that yield the results (good or bad) and evaluate them based on not only the immediate results, but the downstream results as well.

Continue to Question and Evaluate the Processes in Place – New and Old

The wolf is only one of thousands of species in the Yellowstone environment but that one choice affected everything. Every one of us is the custodian of our “environments” to one degree or another. It is as important to question old processes as it is new ones. Watch for those changes over time to keep the project healthy.


Randy Wagner is Director of Quality Assurance for CastleBay Companies. He has 20 years of consulting experience across private and public sectors, Guidewire InsuranceSuite, InsuranceNow, and Duck Creek, with specializations in quality assurance, project management, configuration management, and automation.