[This appeared on linkedin (Sept 14, 2015) https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/thinking-processes-km-mukku]
“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”
A very large part of the workings of an organisation is in their business processes. To anyone who wants to listen, each of these processes is telling a story. For example, a claims process at an Insurance organisations provides an insight into the episodic history of the actors (from within and without the organisation), and their interactions in processing claims. The stories help us understand the actions of actors through their interactions. The processes provide the relational/causal view of the activities of the organisations. We thus have a feel for the organisations efficiency in comparison to the industry benchmarks. The process description can be textual (not unlike a typical novel) and/or it can have a pictorial representation.
- Process visualisations are shunned as they are seen to contribute to a hasty conclusion of cause and effect. But, that is precisely the point of visualising the process; it is to understand the causal flow of the events. You want to see the causal chain that forms the whole process. Both visualisation and textual description have the power to be misinterpreted, but to suggest that one is more of a villain than the other is a matter of individual bias. A good visualisation provides a very powerful aid for the author to lead the viewer through his story of the process.
- Visualisation fails to convey the process story when the number of causal activities and relationships go beyond the ability of the viewer to comprehend visually. At times it feels like the technical artifice of a sub-process was invented only to provide a solution to this visualisation problem.
- Alternative to the lack of a visualisation is a textual list of the components of the process. The only individuals who will attempt to dive into such a document is the poor programmer who really has no choice. The same reasoning negates the use of the XML document (a technical artifice from the runtime engine perspective) as a communication tool for the process.
- Visualisation also has the real danger of providing a sense of understanding without in parallel providing much meaning. This is a serious problem and one must always guard against falling into this trap.
- Processes are dependent on the knowledge of the constituent causal chain of activities.
- Just as a plot and protagonists defines a story, a business process is defined when its chain of activities and actors is described. As the dialogue brings the plot and the protagonists together to form a story, the causal flow of the activities, interacting actors, and information brings out the essence of a process.
- When you cannot identify the causal events nor the actors interactions with the process, it is not possible to write the story; there just is no plot. In this situation the story unfolds as it happens. Each event as it completes dictates the next event, not through some pre-determined rule but by the actor who interacted with the just completed event. If there is no a priori plot, then it is nonsense to even ask how a story ends (is it a happy ending or not). These are some of the reasons why this type of process (story) is a long running process. This is where Adaptive Case Management is seen as a good fit in the management of such processes.
- A process is not just a flow of a causal chain of activities, it is also flow of information. The information influences the flow of the process, and the activities change the information and thus also change the state of the objects in contact with the process. For example, an actors actions are influenced by the past history of the process, as an aside, a bad implementation is where the actor is not allowed to see the past history. The better the handling of information flow the better the management of the history of the process. The information is the connective tissue of the process (imagine stripping a novel of its dialogue), take it out and you ra left with just a jumble of activities. Changes in this background information is the historical shadow through time of the activities and hence the process.
A process and a story are synonymous, they form a coherent whole, separate them and they are meaningless. A story makes real an abstraction such as a process. Thus when choosing which process to optimize ask yourself which story is closest to your customers delight (many touch points). Which story makes him admire your business most? As an insurer your client touch points are most numerous in policy management and claims handling. As an outsourcing service provider you wish to build trust and transparency in your dealings, and this is enabled by telling the story for on-boarding, and billing. There are of course many more processes but they become ancillary to these core processes.
So…, “Let me tell you a story”.