Practices for innovation
In doing this kind of work for over a decade, across industries and companies of all sizes, I’ve noticed some persistent themes. One is that smart people don’t like to be told what to do. Another is that conflict arises when teams who are trying to collaborate have different styles of working. That’s why we promote practice over process in this radical shift.
Today, Dropbox has amazing opportunities: lots of talented people, great culture that values design, and ambitious product strategy. But we have some problems, too: people are exhausted from sitting in meetings all day, it takes too long to reach decisions, and we’re sometimes inconsistent with how we ship across teams. These are common problems for any software business, but ones that we can shape through strong practices.
When kicking off the behavior change process to shift to Virtual First, we saw it as a chance to redesign the way we work to be truly innovative across the company. We have a unique opportunity to cut back on the things that slow us down, and lean into the things that move us forward. The pandemic created an environment to establish new norms, so we seized the moment to evaluate how we work and redesign our model to fit the needs of the team and business. (A boon for design ops practitioners!)
The difference between process and practice
As it turns out, this kind of change management is not about writing a bunch of policies about process; it’s about deep design work to establish new operating practices for our teams.
Why the distinction between process and practice?
By definition, process is a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular result. Process is rigid. Process helps you complete a specific task.
Practices, on the other hand, are flexible and adaptable ways of working. Practices are the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method. They are guidelines that should empower individuals to be creative problem solvers and innovators.
Understanding the kind of change you want to make allows you to focus at the right altitude. When you work with innovative teams, practices tend to be more effective than process because they promote critical thinking over policy compliance. In other words, it’s a mindset shift that helps us move from a process-based system to practices rooted in philosophy around why and how we work, not just what we do.