Boxers have been a liberating staple of mens dress code for a very long time. This has been well cemented for the middle classes by M&S over the last few decades. Boxers have a only a couple of design criteria, viz., the cloth cannot be too thin, but not so thick that you feel you are wearing two trousers; they must be stitched from a single cut of cloth ensuring there is no seam at the back. These are not onerous requirements, and prior to the last decade or so M&S has produced a product that adhered to the design.
Over the last ten to fifteen years something has gone seriously wrong with boxers. The cloth has thickened, and worse still, there is a seam at the back. Why? The deterioration in the boxer can be laid at the doorstep of the reckless drive for globalisation. When you sell your product to new customers without disrupting any of your supply chain, of course, no problem. But, developing nations (particularly in the current environment) have no wish to be just consumers, they want to be part of the production process. Hence the legal restrictions in developing countries (like India), for a fixed percentage of production to be locally sourced,
All this would be fine, but for the brands ignoring to import their quality standards and checks developed over many decades. The local mills can produce the cloth, but the type and quality has to insisted upon by the brand. What should sit comfortably on the waist begins to bite because the elastic band stitched into the cloth is wrong. Instead of sitting comfortably on the waist, it begins to feel as though its desperately gripping it. Inconsistencies in the cloth means that at times some are just too uncomfortable to wear.
Globalisation will only work if the brands produce a consistent product with universal quality standards. If their eyes are focused on increased margins and the accompanying share price uptick, then the product will suffer, with negative long term consequences for the brand. It is not enough to show that you are sourcing locally, but consumers have to feel that the quality of the product has not been lost in the process.
If one were to look from the wrong end of a telescopic magnifier it will lead to a misinterpretation of the distance to the object being observed, it’s all about detail and depth. Any decisions dependent on the outcome of the observation will also be misleading. The same can be said of the apparent confusion of the term ‘Procedure’, and the term ‘Process’, it is all about depth.
Procedure is to a task, what Process is to a (business) goal. When an actor completes a task, he earns the right to income; when a process is completed, the business earns revenue and/or survives another day! Tasks are normally executed by a single actor, whereas the execution of a process may have one or more departments involved, and in most cases include business partners.
Procedure is a way of doing something. An actor will apply a procedure to complete a task. But, not all “way of doing something” is obvious. A skilled actors execution of a task may include a considerable amount of tacit knowledge, consider domains such as insurance, healthcare etc. Except for the most simple tasks, procedural optimisation usually requires ingenuity on the part of the organisation. The dangerous solution is to replace all procedures with something akin to a checklist. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with checklists, they are an excellent disengaged way of performing tasks. And, therein lies the danger.
Only the simplest variety of tasks can be converted to checklists. In particular, tasks that require skilled decision making are usually best left to the skilled actor. The flexibility and knowledge the skilled actor brings cannot be replaced by an unskilled actor with a checklist. Of course, it would be highly negligent to not mention that AI (and/or machine learning) will make all of this redundant.
It should by now be obvious that a process is not procedure in the sense that we imposed in this article. A process is a collective of tasks (and actors), that collaborate to reach a goal. Since most (financially) interesting processes are ones that are customer inclusive, optimising these processes must increase customer satisfaction, which one hopes will lead to increased revenue. Where procedure is about detail, a process is about depth. Like looking through a fisheye lens to see more of the picture. This is also one of the reasons why piecemeal tweaking of a process doesn’t always give the expected returns. The whole process and its goal must be the perspective when an exercise of optimisation is taken up.
This is not an exercise in pedantry. In any discussion of the subject matter there must be an agreement on the definition and meaning of the terms. Lack of this agreement takes us to the same place of obfuscation in which ‘agile’ now finds itself.