The Amazing Ignorance at the Core of BPM
Recently I had two very different experiences. One was a typical discussion with a process management expert on LinkedIN, who proclaimed like many before that because he has been successful in optimizing factory floors he can do the same cost-cutting automation for human interaction in the rest of a business. That unproven claim ignores everything that is scientifically accepted about workplace psychology, the dynamics of human interaction as well as the complexity of markets and its business entities.
He said: ‘Once you know what the right process is you can automate it and it does not matter if you use C++, Java or a flow diagram.’ As if it would be that simple to know the ‘right’ process considering the complexity of human interaction. He then pronounced that: ‘the worst thing that can happen when you use ACM is that two people would decide to create a similar ad-hoc process for the same thing.’ As if that would be the end of the world as we know it. This is what people do all day long without BPM and it makes the world turn! There is no benefit in enforcing the same dumb and inflexible process across the board for the sake of it but it actually costs a lot more to do so. As my whole blog covers extensively why I won’t repeat it here again.
What ACM enables a business to do is to capture these processes and either leave them as they are or empower performers to build libraries of reusable goal- oriented units of work that represent broadly the business knowledge. You can’t analyze that as much as that has been proposed. Both just using ACM for transparency or using it for building knowledge libraries have substantial benefits that are unachievable with BPM. But lets no longer bemoan the ignorance that is at the core of the BPM mindset.
Let me rather tell you about my other experience that justifies my proclamation of ignorance. I had the wonderful opportunity to watch a one year old play with two plastic cups in the bath tub. What has that to do with BPM you might ask but that is exactly my point: absolutely nothing. It is an observation about human nature that people who propose BPM are missing despite all the empty claims to the opposite.
The boy was sitting in the tub filled with just a little water. The water was running from the tap. He got hold of two plastic cups that were standing at the side. For the next half hour I was watching amazed all the things one could do with two cups, running water and a bathtub. I would not have thought of half of them. A child this age has no purpose or cares what is good, practical, necessary or useless. But after this short time he had tested all variations of filling, emptying, pouring, splashing, and more. It included pouring the water over his head and out of the tub. He did not get tired to try and try until he succeeded in what he could do. He also got cranky when things did not work as intended. Then he broke one of the cups but that did not stop him. He turned his attention to the faucet and discovered how to turn it off. He inspected the falling drops and tried to see inside where they were coming from. He managed to open the drain and watched that too with excitement.
I can only say that this was a humblng experience. Children are so adamant at learning and discovering. Their determination to get to the bottom of a problem and discover is immense. They come into this world with no preconceptions of good or bad, and right or wrong. The most terrible thing we can do is to tell them that there is only one right way. We truly know nothing and have no basis to be so incredibly righteous. Children learn that it is better to do nothing than to be wrong or make a mistake. But creativity and discovery thrive on failure. See my post: The Value of Failure.
As I wrote in my 2003 novel ‘Deity’: ‘If parents would truly know more than their children then humanity would get dumber with each generation.’ Let me translate that to business: If managers, executives or BPM experts think they know more than the people doing the job, they are ignorant and arrogant. They won’t do the business any good. I thus propose that orthodox, rigid BPM is a crutch for incompetent management. A manager should be a facilitator for his people and not an enforcer. Successful businesses give their employees room to learn and discover and they know that fun at work translates to happy customers. People follow true leaders and their visions willingly without a BPM straightjacket.
The opposite is unfortunately happening today with the cost-cutting, optimization and automation madness. It already starts at home and in education and is nothing else than killing the core of human creativity and ingenuity. I propose that ALL children start out like that little boy. They all possess the same drive for knowledge, the stamina and the same creativity. Clearly there are differences in character but I do propose that they are minimal and they are needed for productive diversity. The rest is opportunity and experience.
I have no other way than this post to pronounce my disgust for the ignorance that drives people to think of nothing else than to use BPM to produce fools with tools. It is inhumane and has nothing to do with improving how a business works. But unfortunately this mindset already starts in our schools and therefore BPM is even taught at university. If you have not yet seen Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED talk on education you really ought to take the time. You will understand my point better and he is also very entertaining.
Albert Camus wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus:
‘This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart. The absurd depends as much on man as on the world. For the moment it is all that links them together.’
PS: I apologize for the post being publicized before it was online.