Ritual, Superstition and Process

One thing that always bothers me about well-defined business processes is that if you really could completely describe a process (using BPMN or just coding it) – then almost by definition it becomes a commodity process – not one that can be used to differentiate your business from other competing business.

I have this gut feeling that differentiating processes (those processes which makes a business different from their competitors) can have a template describing the basic steps and goals, but for the most part the success of these differentiating processes is dependent on the people executing the process – their skill, knowledge and creativity. These processes don’t lend themselves to the basic tools provided by a BPMS – they can’t be modeled, simulated or optimized.

For example, look at the game of golf (I don’t really play – but I enjoy it anyway). I could describe a process of how to play golf, but it wouldn’t be very useful for anyone except a complete novice, and even then it wouldn’t make them a good player. The only way for anyone to become a good player, is observe, practice and play – preferably with good players. I don’t think many people would argue with that – or try to create a BPMN description of how to play golf. So it is pretty clear that golf (or any game for that matter) doesn’t really lend itself to being described as a traditional process (and anyone who tells me that golf isn’t a business process – well, I wouldn’t hire them as a salesperson :).

But I noticed something about games – players adopt little rituals that they believe help their game – always starting out on their right foot, making weird hand gestures before they play a ball etc.

So what is going on? – it is clear to anyone looking on from the side that these rituals and superstitions don’t really work. What I think is happening is that people really want repeatable processes (though most don’t use the word process, and would probably balk at it). They look for some type of pattern, repeatability and inner logic even when none exists. Anytime they have an exceptionally good game, they look around for some set of steps that will let them repeat that performance. The problem is that usually what they find are some silly (to others) rituals that don’t really have any influence beyond providing confidence and the feeling of repeatability – which actually may be enough to enhance performance. The part they have standardized isn’t what truly enhances performance.

I worry that this might happen if BPM and ACM get “melded”. You can take a truly repeatable process, model it, simulate it and optimize it. Try to do that with a case – and all you get is ritual and superstition.


One Response to “Ritual, Superstition and Process”

  1. A Process for Golf? #bpm » Process for the Enterprise Says:

    […] across a lighthearted post from Jacob Ukelson regarding the process for playing golf.  Well, the thrust of the post is that differentiating processes can not be usefully modeled by a […]

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