What is a good process?

mapping out the flows of some shopify project

What is good process?

Tobi (CEO of Shopify) sat down with the Toronto office today dropped one of those nuggets. When asked “What is good process”, he defined it simply as:

Good process is turning something that wasn’t possible into something possible.
Good process is turning something that was possible into something easier.

Most companies will throw all sorts of process at problems, including the infamous “weekly meetings”. You’ve also probably heard of other more trendy processes like retrospectives, weekly syncs with team leads, 1 on 1s, performance reviews, demos, kickoffs, peer reviews, sprints, etc. Not all processes are inherently bad – even weekly meetings can be a useful tool if done right, but it’s important to constantly question the value of the process.

If you’re responsible for a team of people in the company you’ll perpetually tweak your process to fit your team and the problem you are trying to solve. This is why I liked Tobi’s advice; it’s a solid benchmark for an abstract mechanism like process.

Let’s do an example together:

The initial 10 people at Shopify got lots of Tobi time. We could ask him to pair program, feedback on a mock up, or to describe his perfect Sunday afternoon. When we hit 20 people he couldn’t spend time with everyone as much.

So there is our problem that a process could solve: Shopify was too big for the CEO to meet with everyone and answer all their questions whilst bestowing morsels of pansophism among the troops.

Our first “process” was for Tobi to hold “office hours”. Tobi would leave his door open and you could stroll in and ask him about how the funding was going or discuss the finer points of currywurst.

Did it make something possible that was previously not possible? Yes, anyone at Shopify now had access to Tobi time.

But office hours wasn’t scalable after we hit 50 or so people. It took an entire afternoon of Tobi’s time during a very busy time in Shopify.

Our second “process” was to try an “all hands meeting”. Basically we would meet in the lobby and discuss things. Sometimes there was a presentation, sometimes a new VP/exec would introduce himself, and there was always time for questions.

An all hands meeting with Tobi, right before the acquisition of Select Start Studios

Did this process turn something that was possible into something easier? Yes, it was easier to ask Tobi questions in this environment. With the added bonus of hearing other people’s questions and a more efficient time block (about an hour).

But when we hit 90 people we physically didn’t have room anymore.

So we tried our third process: AMAs (or ask my anythings). We would submit questions and vote them up/down reddit style. Suddenly everyone again could ask Tobi anything they wanted to. On the last friday of every month we’d get together and read the questions.

Satish interviewing Tobi during the AMAs in Toronto

Did this process turn something that was possible into something easier? Yes, the quality of the questions were even better than the all hands discussions and with a new feature of being able to ask them anonymously (although rarely used).

However, AMAs still bears one significant flaw: the questions come from the bottom up. It relies on us to ask the right questions and doesn’t facilitate a two way conversation.

So next time you’re holding that weekly meetings ask your self 2 things:

Am I turning something that wasn’t possible into something possible?
Am I turning something that was possible into something easier?

How to remember your new years resolutions

When the generous chaps over at gelaskins treated me to a free custom designed case I wasn’t sure what to slap on the back of my phone. Your case is a surprisingly personal object, you’ll get more comments on your case than your actual phone – especially after my last one looked like a gameboy.

So I decided to take some of the notes I wrote down from various books in 2013; things I wish I would always remember.

iPhone case from gelaskins with New Years resolutions


Book notes: Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

Astronauts – the epitomy of the iceberg principle. We never stop and think how these little marshmallowy rocketeers ended up being strapped to 423 tons of thrust.

The media is obsessed with the destination and not the journey, which is exactly why Chris Hadfield’s 304 page “Astronauts Guide to Life On Earth”‎ was just a joy to read. It focuses on how Commander Hadfield made his way up from a farm in rural Canada to the stars.

Hadfield's book with Queenstown in the background

Book notes:

The skill set for being an astronaut in space is actually quite simple. It’s nothing you couldn’t do like fixing toilets or packing. The challenge is becoming a jack of all trades in language, psychology, rocket science, piloting, mechanics and so much more.

Hadfield formula for success (revolves around the journey becoming more important the the destination)

  • Learn all necessary skills for the challenge
  • Pictures the most demanding challenge
  • Visualize how to realize the challenge
  • Practice that challenge until you become comfortable

Don’t go into work thinking you’re a good astronaut. Go into work thinking you’re good astronaut material. Embrace an “always learning” work ethic.

You’re always getting ahead if you are learning. Even if you stay on the same “rung” (title, salary range etc). Job titles are purely for administration purposes.

Fear is simply a synonym for “without knowledge”. If you understand the problem high-stress situations will evaporate. Look at how intimidating it was to open an online store for the first time, now it’s a piece of cake.

Early success is a bad teacher. You’re being rewarded for lack of prep. That’s why it’s so dangerous to think just because you’re an early Shopify employee you are somehow “special”.

Hadfield is a living legend. The guy did a spacewalk while blinded by detergent, passed out for 16 seconds while flying a jet fighter, and even had a live bee stuck in his visor when in formation with 3 other planes.

NASA evaluate an astronaut’s behaviour and social skills by asking people that don’t “work” with them. Relying on the opinions of facility staff like nurses. Shopify does this occasionally with guru interviews.

No question is stupid. He once poured liquid down a seemingly normal sink only to wreck havoc on the entire buildings plumbing system. Send Tobi, Adam, etc a quick email before you make a seemingly simple routine, but impactful decision.

Great framework for categorizing people. You’re either a -1, 0, or +1. People that are +1s don’t tell people they’re plus one. Aim to be a zero, until you naturally become a +1.

Don’t sail into a situation and make your presence known. Ingress without causing a ripple. Aim for a neutral impact. Aiming to be a zero is always an easy goal.

Seek to learn not to impress.

Rating 4/5 | ★★★★☆