There is a great article in this month’s Harvard Business Review entitled “When Should a Process Be Art, Not Science?” The idea here is that process standardization can go too far, particularly for products that are as much art as science. The article sites such endeavors as building Steinway pianos and software development as potentially artistic processes that will need different forms of management, metrics, and process definition from those of more traditional, repeatable activities. Artistic processes, the article says, are those that have great variation in both process inputs and process outputs and thus must be built by craftsmen who use considerable judgment and experience to create a final product that is suitable for a particular customer. So how should managers lead artistic processes? Through investing in skills, culture, training, and through frequent iteration and customer-based feedback loops. Furthermore, the article mentions that science can serve art by creating a basic and stable process foundation upon which the artistic endeavors of activities like software development can flourish. Of course, we in the Agile community have been supporting these ideas for years; moving away from heavy, overly prescriptive processes and more towards lighter weight, iterative frameworks, and company cultures that support the true nature of software development. For more, see the article here at HBR.

Questions?