Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Wax On, Wax Off

Today I want to talk about the unnecessary focus of process people on – well – process. I guess in many ways: 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.

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. 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, but before you get there, there are many years of hard work and practice on the basics. 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, and 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?

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 the 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 is 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.

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 and 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. 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?

No perspective. This we need to change! And then you’ll see people will master business processes faster and better.

Thank You for Reading! and please feel free to leave a comment!

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