From The Art Of Community by O'Reilly ( by Jono Bacon

Building Great Processes

Processes are everywhere. There is a process to withdraw money from your bank account. There is a process to get the oil changed in your car. And of course, any interaction with the government...well, I am sure you can end that sentence for yourself. Unfortunately, many people who interact with processes experience little reward for a lot of frustration.

Processes are like television news: we only ever hear the negative stories.

When we take a laissez-faire approach to processes, we put confidence in our community at risk. Processes are the conceptual buttons that your community members push to make things happen, and when those buttons don’t work as expected, people get bored and frustrated and move on. On the other hand, if we craft smooth, efficient, and effective processes, our community feels nimble, responsive, and a pleasure to be part of.

Breaking Up the Puzzle

Building a quality process is like taking a road trip. You know where you want to go. You want to take the shortest route, and you want to avoid as many bottlenecks and problems as possible. When you plan your perfect route, you are careful to take the fewest number of roads, take advantage of available freeways/motorways, avoid rush hour, regularly check on current road conditions, and ensure that an In-N-Out Burger restaurant is on the route at regular points (that’s just my personal criterion...).

You should take the same approach to efficiency with your processes. How can you achieve what you want as quickly and efficiently as possible? How can you communicate the journey as easily as possible to new members? How can you ensure your processes are always amenable to current conditions?

Great processes are beautiful creatures, but they need care and feeding to thrive. Our goal in this chapter is to identify these needs and produce processes that exhibit the following criteria:

  • The goal of the process is achieved as quickly as possible
    • The quicker a process ends, the quicker your community can get on with more interesting


  • The fewest possible steps can achieve the goal
    • Redundant steps merely make the process feel long and drawn out; let’s avoid that.
  • Each step is simple, well documented, and clearly communicated
    • Each step should be absolutely necessary, and performing it should be simple. A quick technical example: if you need someone to type something in, don’t demand case-sensitivity; it only complicates that step.
  • The process is as friction-free as possible
    • We want to avoid confusion and annoyance, not only with each step in the process, butin the process as a whole.
  • Quality is maintained at every step
    • We need to identify and maintain the different types of quality involved in a process: its accuracy at achieving the outcome, how efficient it is, how well documented it is, how current it is, and how open to change and improvement it is.

Building A Process

When you need to build a process for something (such as how members join your community), note down the following criteria:

  • Goal
    • What is the goal of the process? What does it seek to achieve? What is the outcome when the process has been followed?
  • Target participants
    • Who is the process designed for? Is it intended for a particular kind of contributor, such as a developer, documentation writer, translator, or advocate?
  • Requirements
    • What tools, knowledge, and experience must the contributor have in order to follow through with the process? If she does not possess these requirements, how can she obtain them easily? Are these requirements a barrier to entry (such as costing money or limited availability)?
  • Steps involved
    • What are the chronological steps involved in achieving the goal? What could go wrong? Is it possible for people to accidentally ruin a step? How is feedback provided about each step? Who provides the feedback?
  • Verification
    • Who makes the decision about the successful completion of the process? Also, how is it communicated that the contributor has achieved the process?

Avoiding bureaucracy

The most important ingredient when building processes is an understanding of people and their expectations. And this understanding requires you to solicit feedback, along with a culture devoted to always improving and refining your processes. When we understand and react to participants’ expectations, processes behave as they expect. Part of the reason why feedback is so important is that it prevents bureaucracy: rules that are maintained because “they are the rules.”

Spread the message in your community that tomorrow may always bring a better way to carry out a current process. Processes provide an excellent opportunity to simplify tasks, tend to needs, and help your community focus on innovating more easily.

Encourage and enthuse your community to question your processes. This feedback will keep your processes on their toes and protected from the dreaded B-word.


All volunteer communities thrive on a sense of openness, because they are associative. These communities are built by people who choose to live their lives there. Everyone who participates in a volunteer community does so because they enjoy it: it is not a job or a requirement. As such, to keep them involved, there needs to be a sense that their input is valuable, and this absolutely applies to their input on how well community processes are working. Ask yourself this question: would you rather live in a community where you can have an impact on the governing rules, or a community in which other people decide?

These risks with transparency can happen to any volunteer community. The solution to this is simple: involve your community at every step of your community growth. Involve them in the strategy, the processes, the governance, the execution of these decisions, and more. Have public communications channels and public meetings, and instead of questioning whether something should be public, question whether it should be private. When we work together, the world feels a very open place.

BuildingCommunity/BuildingGreatProcesses (last edited 2010-09-07 02:24:18 by pendulum)