A Process for Golf? #bpm

  • October 11, 2011
  • Scott

A process for golf?  Or just another analogy designed to prove the deficiencies of BPM?

Ran 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 BPMS.  I would contend, rather, that the differentiating elements of your process – people(!)-  cannot be modeled by a BPMS.  It is a subtle difference, but an important one.  The basics of the golf process are easy to model  – easier than most sports- there are, after all, 18 holes to be played in succession… 19th hole is optional 🙂  However, the quality of process outcomes depends upon how well the player strikes the ball, and there isn’t a good process description for that. In a sense this is the human element that really shouldn’t be addressed directly.

But what Jacob focuses on is the minutiae of golf, which I agree you would certainly not try to model:

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.

The problem with analogies is often that they rely on different assumptions.  Jacob assumes that these rituals (“superstitions”) don’t work, and therefore worries that people are focused on standardizing the wrong things…

Golf and tennis are family sports for my family.  I never took to golf, personally, but I took up tennis.  And I can tell you that there is a method to the madness of rituals.  Of course there are people with ridiculous rituals (just watch McEnroe serving in the 80’s), but there is a point to it.  By having a routine to follow – however simple or complex – you engage muscle memory and disengage conscious thought.  You give your mind a chance to focus without holding on to that focus too tightly.

Much of the accuracy of shots in tennis is due to foot work rather than the stroke. But why?  Because good footwork puts you in a position to hit a shot from the “sweet spot” of your stroke – described vertically and horizontally by the most comfortable place for you to strike the ball accurately.  If your footwork is good, you put yourself in a good position to hit well time and time again.  If your footwork is poor, you are forced to constantly adjust your stroke to account for the distance of the ball from your body, and the varying height at which the ball must be struck.  In a high quality match, a very small percentage change in your stroke can have a big effect on the # of errors (you have many opportunities to commit such errors).

In short: these rituals are often about addressing the ball at the most comfortable distance.  It isn’t just superstition.  But I wouldn’t bring a BPMS anywhere near it!

Jacob concludes:

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.

Hm.  Having deployed several case management solutions, I haven’t seen any ritual and superstition yet.  It is possible to imagine all kinds of problems, but in practice I don’t see them.  You just have to realize that you can hold that “case” or process too tightly with process modeling, but in practice your BPMS will work well for case management if you find the right balance between control (governance) and flexibility.


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  • Scott,
       Hi. You make a lot of good points in your post – but let me pick at one. I’ll bet that you actually have seen ritualsuperstition in a case project – when asking about some specific step or set of steps haven’t you ever been told “this is how we do it around here” or “that is how it always has been done”.

    Sometimes (not always – as you point many rituals are actually grounded in fact) when you dig deeper you find some sensible historical reasons for those steps which no longer hold today, or don’t make sense in the current environment. Since people didn’t understand the root cause of those steps – they just keep doing them as a ritual – even though they don’t provide anything except a link to the past…

    • Jacob – of course I’ve heard the “how it has always been done” argument before – but in many cases it is the knee jerk reaction, and the historical (even present) reasons for it will come out if you either find the right person, or ask the right questions… but when the understanding of “why” is completely absent, then we’d both be challenged to distinguish it from ritual or superstition 🙂  very good analysis there!  Ritual without root cause… not a good recipe.