Accelerating Knowledge Worker Decision Processes

I read a really interesting article by William Gladwell on “How David Beats Goliath” which got me thinking about what would happen to business if we could actually accelerate the decision processes done by knowledge workers. Most analysts now agree that knowledge worker processes make up the bulk of processes for most businesses, and for the most part the only tools IT provides for them in their tasks email and documents (and maybe wikis and IM). What would happen if we could magically increase the speed in which this type of work could be done? What would be the ramifications for business? What would be the benefits that could be reaped over competition?

I think everyone would agree that a company that could speed up these critical knowledge workers decision processes would have an “unfair” advantage over its competitors. So what is needed to make this a reality?

A simpler version of this problem can be found in performance problem resolution for complex distributed computer systems. The problem arises because today’s computer systems are so distributed, with so many components that interact in unanticipated ways and with so many transactions flowing through them – performance problems are a bear to solve.

Finding the root cause of distributed application performance problems is a very, very hard problem – and that is for systems much less complex (and less dynamic) in their interactions than human processes.  Not surprisingly, it turns out that the first step in solving such performance problem is having the right data about the actual transaction flow. The premise is that if you collect all the information of how a transaction progresses along its path (both as it happens and a historical view) – then solving a performance problem becomes much, much  easier. The intuition behind this is simple – the best way to fix a performance problem is to understand its root cause, and the best way to find a root cause is to see the problem while it is happening. If you don’t see it “in-vivo” while it is happening – then it becomes a detective task – you only get to see the symptoms of the original problem, and need to derive from those the root cause. Like the TV show CSI – a show that derives all of its interest from how smart people unravel a mystery from its symptoms (or after effects) without the benefit of an eyewitness. It is so interesting because deriving a root cause from symptoms is hard (and the source of many a TV show – e.g. House MD, Law and Order, Fringe). The reason the problem is so hard (and the show so interesting) is that they are studying the after effect of an event, and trying to ascertain the root cause. This blood splatter meant that, this rip was caused by the other. Contrast that to an eyewitness report – I saw X pick up the knife and stab Y. Would make for a really effective investigation (and a really boring show).  Same is true for performance problem resolution in computer systems. If you have the right “eye-witness” data, then in many cases analyzing and fixing the problem is a piece of cake, without the right data – it is a bear.

Performance problem technology went through some interesting phases – first came the sophisticated analysis techniques to help solve the problem (the CSI approach) and now we are seeing new technology and approaches that are focused on collecting better, more effective data (the eye-witness approach) – since examining only symptoms causes root cause analysis to be very expensive, while an eye-witness approach is much more effective (and cheaper).

 The same holds true for knowledge processes. If we want to improve knowledge worker process – the first thing we need to do is collect the right data – not after the fact symptomatic, biased data – but true “in-vivo” data of how the process is actually performed. Only then can we be effective at resolving the problems and speeding up the process. If we could view knowledge worker decision processes as they are executed – then most of the difficulty involved with speeding up such a process (or fixing a broken one) would go away… It would be simple to see where any given decision process stands at any given time, and to understand whether it is healthy or not.

One Response to “Accelerating Knowledge Worker Decision Processes”

  1. Tweets that mention Accelerating Knowledge Worker Decision Processes | ActionBase Blog - Thoughts on Collaboration Process Management Unstructured Compliance and Audit -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sandy Kemsley, Sandy Kemsley and ivo velitchkov, ActionBase. ActionBase said: Accelerating Knowledge Worker Decision Processes – […]

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