Archive for March, 2011
“Wax on, wax off”. That is a good one. And I don’t disagree. It is good to start with the basics. You can’t let go of the idea of the process, without mastering it first.
But let’s apply your parallel a bit further. Why did Daniel-san in the end go through the wax-on-wax-off thing for ages? Because he had perspective. His master did show him that if he would go through the basics, one day he would indeed be able to do the crane stance. He knew why he was doing it.
This perspective I am missing in the world of business process management. Sure, there are nice maturity models, but they are all written from within the paradigm. Daniel’s master knew that the purpose of learning is to learn how to unlearn as well. To know when to follow the rules and when to break them. To stand above your own discipline and reflect objectively on it. (I am using the word objectively very deliberately here. If you stand above your discipline, you are detached from it and can view it as an object. If you live within your discipline, you are part of the subject).
You are correct, one of my favorite observations is never to trust a theory that doesn’t predict its own end. Exactly the hallmark of mastering your discipline.
So, back to the point. Why am I arguing for letting the idea of the process go? Not because I want people to skip steps. On the contrary. The reason is that I would like to sketch perspective on why they are going through these steps. To liberate themselves.
Here we touch another point. People being free. It surprises me that the discipline of BPM is so conceptual and analytical. Where is the human approach? In his book “Drive”, Daniel Pink discusses the three things that motivate professionals: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Classical BPM doesn’t offer any of them. The process is in control, administrative professionals don’t have autonomy in transactional decision-making. And if you allow me a bit of sarcasm, the only mastery that current systems offer is mastery of the 154 screen in the system, instead of administrative professionals mastering their trade. And purpose? None of that all. Most processes don’t come much further than promising “just follow me, and everything will be alright.” For what will be alright? And for whom?
That we need to change! And then you’ll see people will master business processes faster and better.
Would you agree?
Let me come back to your previous post about the unnecessary focus of process people on – well – process. I guess in many ways you are right: people would be more flexible and effective if they could chart their own route towards creating results, not inhibited by fixed process definitions. Then again, there might be some areas where it is necessary to get a firm grip on processes first, before you can let them go. Let’s discuss a few of these instances in the forthcoming days.
You see, I truly believe that the end state of many products, topics and management theories is that they render themselves redundant. This is the essence of systematic innovation approaches such as TRIZ. Think you said it yourself as well, last week during the Gartner BPM Summit: never trust a management theory that does not have decommissioning itself as the final state.
But you don’t reach an end state before going to absolutely necessary first and intermediate steps. You’ve got to master the basic before you can elevate yourself.
Let’s call this Wax On, Wax Off: you can strive to be a karate master that defeats his opponents with an unthinkable crane stance (fighting which no longer looks like fighting), but before you get there, there are many years of hard work and practice on the basics.
Wax On, Wax Off.
We must master process basics first, before we can leave processes behind. We must at least be able to understand processes, define them, execute them, monitor them, improve them. Over and over again. It will take considerable time to reach the maturity levels that are needed to take next steps.
How do you see this? Could it be that your perspective is a bit too advanced, already seeing the end phase but not prepared to follow the entire road? Could you be like Daniel-san, just a bit too eager to achieve the master level?
Interested in your builds!
Great article on eBizQ that illustrates the NoProcess thinking – be careful applying process improvement frameworks such as Lean and Six Sigma in the more innovation & creative area’s in your company. You might cut a lot of cost, but you might cut the heart of the area as well, leaving you crippled in the longer run.
Around 2005 I first got involved in a project with some new innovative technology: Business Process Management (as we called it back then).
As business analyst, I was part of a team that also consisted of a number of developers. And till today, I remember the look in their eyes when they started to understand the possibilities and implications of this technology. And the same look I saw in the business manager’s eyes. And I did not like it.
The developers look: “Wow, before I could only drive the behavior of computers, but with this, this…. I can program people!” (I won’t go into the finer aspects of the developer psychology, including the way nerds are treated – hum ignored – by the cool business people – BPM as the perfect revenge!).
The manager’s look: “Wow, so I get a process-driven application, which pushes my people’s behavior, and gives me near real-time insight”. (As most managers have had unsecure childhoods, BPM was the perfect way to regain control).
And the uneasy feeling I got, was also because at that stage I was reading lot’s of management material, studying the history of management. The look in the eyes of these people felt “industrial revolution” or “Taylorian”.
Interesting – a new innovative technology, that takes us back to the thinking of 60 years ago – ignoring all the developments in management thinking – empowerment, self-steering teams, work as social dimension, etc. And it let back to the notion of “first process, than people”.
Oh, by the way – the project failed. Insufficient user acceptance.
My lesson: Don’t confuse the ends with the means. Process is not the goal – the goal is to support people collaborating and adding value to company and stakeholders. And process can be an element in helping these people structure and support their work. Process is (Capital) A means (and unfortunately often a barrier in many organizations…)
(This post also posted on http://process-transformation.blogspot.com)
Just to make sure: there is absolutely nothing wrong with White Elephants. Actually, in Asia they were often regarded as signs of prosperity and success and emperors would hold them as status symbols. On the other hand, these huge animals would deliver little value and yet cost a fortune to be maintained.
A White Elephant thus shows a fair balance of blessings and curses. Much like in the world of Business Process Management, which has its own collection of trunk bearing white animals. They are called Proof of Concepts. Sometimes, it’s too hard to explain to the organization what BPM can do (especially if we ask the Mother of All Truth, Wikipedia about BPM: “a holistic management approach focused on aligning all aspects of an organization with the wants and needs of clients”, sounds – well – very holistic indeed).
A local proof of concept, pragmatically addressing a real issue in the business, is then often a splendid way to break through the inertia. As we will show through three cases at the upcoming Gartner BPM Summit, it demonstrates the value of BPM and paves the path towards wider enterprise use. But every now and then, the owners of such a prototype become so attached to it, they cannot dispose from it anymore. It becomes their own, precious status symbol. Keeping it alive, scaling, performing and integrated with other systems requires disproportionate attention and budget. It can even inhibit a wider roll-out. It looked so fresh, promising and simple in the brochure of the technology provider. But now this big white beast has outgrown its stable and is blocking the entrance.
How to prevent it? Manage expectations upfront, explicitly. Design for scalability, performance and integration. Create and maintain an architectural perspective. Essentially: think cradle-to-cradle, even when it is ‘just’ a proof of concept.
There is great potential in a new breed of solutions that have BPM inside. Just make sure they don’t grow into White Elephants. Unless you are an emperor, of course