How process drives flywheels

Community
June 25, 2021
Rosie Sherry
Community Lead
How process drives flywheels
Welcome to The Observatory, the community newsletter from Orbit.

I'm Rosie, and I'll be your guide for this mission. Each week I'll go down rabbit holes so you don't have to. I'm here to share tactics, trends and valuable resources I've observed in the world of community building.

💫  Subscribe to The Observatory

How process drives flywheels

Often we think of communities as places that flourish in creativity, good will and wild founder visions. Whilst all of these points can be true, what is also true is that most communities are built on flywheels which also happen to be made up of day to day and repeatable processes.

Let us go explore…

Every part of a flywheel is built on community processes

If a flywheel has A, B, and C:

Flywheel Example

Then for each A, B and C there will likely be multiple processes needing action.


Let’s say you write a weekly newsletter, a simplistic flywheel might look like this.

Newsletter Flywheel: create, share, look for new content

The flywheel diagram is deceptively simple. That’s kind of the point, after all, in that the goal of the diagram is to communicate how the parts fit together. But keep in mind that each phase of a flywheel is built on important and detailed processes that drive them forward.

Perhaps a newsletter flywheel will be built on processes such as:

Newsletter creation:

  • Agreed publishing schedule
  • Clear writing styles
  • Clear vision and boundaries of content
  • A clear editorial process

For sharing the newsletter:

  • How do you encourage people to share the newsletter?
  • Where do you share the newsletter after it has been published?
  • Do you reshare the content in other formats?

Looking for new content:

  • What is your process for deciding on new content?
  • Can anyone in the team pick it up?
  • Can others contribute to the process?

Let’s look at an example

A little while ago I started a Communitree initiative designed to get people talking about community building over short audio conversations, aka, Rackets.

If we were to break it down into a community flywheel then it would look something like this:

To me, sure, it’s useful to have an overview of this to help understanding, but really the power in getting any initiative is in the grind of the doing — ie. the processes. Creating initial excitement about something and people will not just magically come.

I’ve been refining the Communitree process over the past few weeks. It currently looks something like this, as documented in our Notion account:

Notion is our place to document all community and company processes, while much of our community work is happens directly in Orbit..

Every person who hosts a Communitree is tagged in Orbit as ‘Communitree’. The current count is 45 Communitrees recordings, and as this project keeps growing I want an easy way to reach out to everyone who has participated, which is why tagging is super important.

I’m not exactly sure how I’ll reach out, or why. I have some loose ideas around this, but for now I’m paying my future self by keeping the data nicely organised. The point here is that processes evolve over time.

In addition to the tagging, logging an activity is important from both a community and Orbit perspective. When communities are distributed we need to have the mindset that community building happens everywhere.

Every interaction can count towards community building. Some of it can be automatically pulled in via an integration, while other things still need a bit of a handcrafted and curated approach.

With Communitree I’ve been tagging Communitree as an activity with ‘1’ weight.

Processes will evolve – and that’s OK

Honestly, I started without a set process and I started making it up as I was going along. Trying to figure out where all the pieces of the puzzle fitted together.

There are some automations in place, but it doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. For example, to book a Communitree with me people need to do so via Calendly. I have a Zap set up so that an Orbit activity is automatically added to Orbit when this is done. This won’t necessarily happen for people external to the team, but it can happen for those within it.

Alas, I wish processes were perfect, they’re usually something that require iteration, feedback and evolve overtime. Good enough over perfect is probably a good mindset to have.

This is all easier said than done

Let's be real about this.

This looks easier on paper than it is in real life. I’m super guilty of thinking that I can get more done with the resources I have access to. Everything takes longer than expected, pretty much always.

Here are some things to be mindful about:

  • Flow is required: routine and flow may not sound very exciting, but it is key for productivity. It can take time to build flow and routine into our day to day lives.
  • Experimentation: be playful with new ideas. Experiments can come in many forms. Getting traction on completely new flywheels can be hard, experimenting and adjusting existing ones could be a wiser approach.
  • Failure: We are told to embrace failure, and we should. We should also plan for this. Failure is super disruptive to our daily lives!
  • Explore boundaries: Once something is set up, what boundaries can we explore? How can we keep improving and innovating on what we have?
  • Rabbit holes: The more I go down rabbit holes, the more I realise how much I can improve the work I’m doing. Go explore with a goal to bring back new ideas and improvements.

Processes pay off

I’d love to talk more about community processes and how we can build these into our day to day workflows. When we talk, things can so easily get lost in translation. There is also a risk of losing core insights if a team member ‘gets hit by a bus’.

However, by focusing on processes can enable us to build in predictability. Afterall, if we know what needs to be done, we will then be able to manage with increased precision.

Instead of looking at processes with reluctance, we can choose to look at them with joy!

  • They can help teams scale
  • Not all processes are documentation
  • Automating tasks can be seen as a process
  • They create predictability
  • They can be a great source of education for the whole team

With more talk and support for community building it’s pretty exciting to see new conversations starting to appear around this. Community Operations is a term being used now, as a way to think, act and work on the day to day operations of community building.

It’s not a case of setting things up and being done

The world just moves way too fast to stand still. This can feel like a blessing and a curse at the same time. Just when you feel you are starting to find your feet, often you’ll find the world around you changing at a faster pace than your community has been accustomed to.

As part of your community strategy you need to balance what needs focusing on. Processes are never done. Just like flywheels are forever changing, processes need to change within them.

Building communities needs to have a culture of constantly reviewing (and iterating where it makes sense) where energy is being spent.

  • Are we being efficient?
  • Why are we doing this?
  • Is this still a good way of going about this?
  • Can we do this better?
  • Is there something else that would bring better results?
  • Does the community still appreciate this?

The devil is in the details

It is easy to fantasize about all the things that a community can create, the possibilities are endless. Perhaps it is within this potential that we can get overwhelmed and lost.

Flywheels are a great tool to start visualizing the things that need to be done. However, the real work is in drilling down, developing the processes and doing the work. It’s not sexy, but I assure you that the communities that thrive are those that are built upon actionable processes.

💫  Orbit is Hiring Engineers in US/EMEA

Orbit helps grow and measure thousands of communities like Kubernetes and CircleCI. We're a remote-first company with a product-driven, empathetic engineering team that enjoys the occasional space pun! Check out our careers page for open opportunities.

Related Articles