White Space & The Dark Matter of BPM Delivery

Lance Gibbs
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Most have heard the term “white space” as it refers to business processes. In short, white space are all the things which happen outside the standard process; workarounds effectively. Most of this is un-captured “hidden” work that impacts the overall process capability in a non-favorable way. Identification of this white space is exactly what process analysis is all about because it is within this white space where you often find real root-cause issues that create variation in how well the process is performing. Just one example would be when you have a standard process defined at a given level and use that standard as a point of measure, yet some steps are being done differently to compensate for regulatory changes or system deficits. This is a pretty common pattern we have all seen.  The upside is that finding this white space is more straight forward because you are analyzing a living, breathing business process. Notice I say straight forward, that doesn’t necessarily correlate to easy. There is another situation however which is far more elusive, and ultimately far more vast than white space. I think of this as delivery “Dark Matter” in that it really resembles what we have come to learn exists in the universe. Dark Matter is matter that has real effects on everything out there but is not highly visible, the mechanics are relatively unknown in so much as to what effects one might expect by its presence, and measurement is relatively non-existent. However, you can validate its existence quickly by being in the throes of a BPM project. No matter how well-formed a delivery and risk plan are to a particular BPM delivery program you will no doubt experience unexpected, and sometimes violent failures in one form or another while you are in the actual delivery phase of a project. Here is the big difference between the white and dark: you can analyze a process for white space because it is in existence/tangible or more specifically it is running; but unless you are in the real construction situation of a solution, you can’t identify dark matter’s effects on delivery. Everyone can brainstorm all the possible challenges which might arise, work out mitigations and the like but as long as you are rooted in documentation and not the visceral experience of delivery you will not be able to capture all of it with high confidence. Compounding this problematic situation is when mitigations and controls start being applied liberally into the project before any actual experience is garnered! Consider this, you are increasing the mass of the project with more controls to mitigate risk thereby increasing the energy required to deliver. Eventually, this competition results in pure inertia. Nothing can move, nothing can proceed because the sheer weight which has been built on the project cannot be overcome. In the race for risk aversion of this elusive dark matter a project can be overwhelmed and brought to its knees before it ever has a chance to deliver value to the business in which it was chartered. Good news is that you avoid dark matter failure effects, bad news is that you almost always avoid success. Up next will be an important notion to help successfully deal with the dark matter, “Value-Added Failure”.  A successful failure sometimes gives you the greatest returns!