Friday, August 29, 2008

Process: More than "the computer says no"

I have been interested in transaction cost economics for a number of years, particularly from the organisational & supply chain point of view. At what point do the internal efficiencies of process and formalisation become more effectively performed outside the organisation? How much formalisation should we have versus "organicity" and "self direction"?. From what I learned, quite a lot of "reality" gets "codified" through "formal procedures". We've all seen it happen in our companies, or in former places of employment: the report says "good to go", but you know there are risks not mentioned in that report. That's where the informal processes and network does its work, and those conversations are probably happening in emails, IM's, and social networks. So, formalisation is and always was mediated and augmented by conversation.

Being thorough in following process and procedure can drive effective performance, even in medical environments like Intensive Care. It can help in the diagnosis, in the doing, and in the reporting.

I was intrigued when the FastForwardBlog had a posting on Taylor and Micro-Processes. To quote:

examples (of micro-processes) might include:

  • Customizing an existing sales presentation for a meeting with a new prospect
  • Designing the agenda and preparing materials for an internal brainstorming meeting
  • Putting together the briefing materials for a quarterly business review meeting
  • Analyzing and making sense out of a competitor’s recent pricing announcement

These micro-processes are characterized by:

  • A small number of steps
  • Ad hoc design created by the knowledge workers responsible for the process
  • Loose definitions of the beginning and end of the process
  • Loose notions of control, sign-offs, and approvals
  • Technology-enabled, if at all, by email and office suite tools.

None of these processes were ever explicitly designed; they’ve evolved over time. The cumulative pain and productivity drag imposed by these processes is accepted as a fact of organizational life. While various technologies are offered up as ways out of the swamp, we need an overall improvement strategy to provide the necessary direction

There is much to ponder here. Given that there has been little progress made in bringing "Taylorism" to knowledge work, how we can use process-based orientation to expose these hidden drags could lead to an explosion in productivity. God knows, our economy could do with it. VoiceSage takes a process perspective to drive out drags in communication and collaboration, particularly in communications to the customer base, but there is no reason why a similar focus could not be used on internal processes. Indeed Thomas Howe has numerous examples of how document sign off and management creates unnecessary and expensive drags that when traced and measured cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Dave said...

Hi Paul,

Interesting post.

My first impression is that by formalising micro-processes in knowledge work, is there not a danger of removing some of the creativity needed to produce effectively when working in this area? The analysis & deconstruction of processes in manual type labour, where Taylorism originated, works because the goal is a standardised product or output. In much of "knowledge work", I would think there is, and often should be, far less standardisation in the output. Instead, there is a reliance on some level of creativity that could hindered by overly strict adherence to a process.

Bernie Goldbach said...

You and Gabriela Avram should sit in a corner during a Limerick OpenCoffee session because she's supervising a thesis that could benefit from some of the analysis you've made concerning microprocesses.

Paul Sweeney said...

OK Bernie, can do, will do.

Get your twitter mosaic here.