Process, Structure, and the Illusion of Hindsight vs. Foresight

  • January 19, 2011
  • Scott
  • 4 Comments

The argument over what a process is continues.  As well, the argument over what is BPM and what is ACM.  Two articles recently on the subject.  First, Michael Poulin argues that all process is structured, and that ACM is not about process at all, but about managing the unknown or unexpected:

ACM is not about process management due to the absence of the process, it is rather about a management of consequences of unpredicted events, which itself is very important business task.

Well, look.  It is an interesting attempt to define ACM – it just happens to be a different definition than all the other ACM thought leaders have been using as an operating model.  Maybe the ACM folks will take up his definition – maybe not (I feel that, as someone not classified as a proponent, I shouldn’t be the one to define the term.  Though I did suggest what I think ACM is about, vis-a-vis BPM, at one point… and at an earlier point).

Then Keith Swenson weighs in – and seems to largely agree with Michael’s discussion – I think for two reasons: first, it has a very narrow interpretation of process, and second, Michael provides justification for arguing that even well-understood processes may not be as well-understood as people think (and therefore perhaps they need to be re-examined as being ACM!):

He says “But, wait a minute, do we know what/why we do things? Do we really know the logic of our actions?”   Truth is, we do thing[s], and then later rationalize why we did them.  However, it is not clear that that rationale is in fact the cause of the actions.

So, now the argument seems to be that we’re just rationalizing a set of actions after the fact, rather than contemplating a plan in advance. The ability to see the structure and organization of what we do is a good thing – a key organizing attribute of businesses and people.  Somehow Keith has made this sound like a deficiency instead of a beneficial attribute (it might not have been his intent, but that’s how it comes across). Being able to describe a complex interaction as, instead, a smaller set of high-level actions, is a huge benefit to humanity’s ability to understand the world.  And the fact that BPM leverages that capability is hardly a deficiency, for example.

Moreover, Keith uses an art metaphor:

When an art student first attempts to draw an outdoor scene involving a tree, they commonly will start by drawing a line around the tree.  That line does not exist in reality, but it is a construct of the mind which automatically classifying what you are seeing.  The tree “looks” separate from the surrounding, because we understand that the tree is a separate entity from the mountain behind it.  The art student must “unlearn” this habit of drawing in the borders between conceptual things.  Such unlearning is not trivial.

There is a fair amount of “unlearning” when learning to draw (or paint).  But there IS a process for sketching landscapes, versus sketching portraits.  Growing up, I observed that my sister could take a picture of something and sketch a photo-realistic copy of the same thing scaled up or down in size (I thought that was quite amazing, being the little brother).  It was hardly assigning method to the madness after the fact – she had a plan before pencil touched paper.  There were even a standard bag of tricks for incorporating or correcting any mistakes.

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