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To quote W. Edwards Deming, "If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you are doing." Do you agree?
Emiel Kelly Accepted Answer
No, I don't agree because what I am doing might not be a process at all, but just a part of a process.  I might be able to describe it as some kind of workflow picture, but that doesn't make my work a process. 

What I do together with my colleagues might be a complete process that delivers a useful result.  Steps don't define a process; the end result does. 

 

But, okay. Those steps might be describable, but than I still think this question assumes a very limited view of 'process'. The workflow view where a process is seen as a set of steps in some kind of predefined order. That is not a process, but just a type of process. 

There are also, among other types,  employee driven processes where an employee decides on the next step based on the properties of the case. Information is more important than 'a predefined order of steps' here. That's also a process. But what happened for a case can only be described afterwards.  

 

So the answer to this question is only yes when I do the process on my own and the workflow is very straightforward.  And that's a process view of the eighties. Makes me think: when did deming make this quote?   

And by the way; describing your work doesn't seem a goal to me. Executing is. 

 
Common Sensei at Procesje.nl
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Considering that "Business process is an explicitly-defined coordination for guiding the purposeful enactment of business activity flows" then YES.

Thanks,

AS

 

 

 

 
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Our definition, "yes," not necessarily Deming's, but that being said, agreed.
  1. Patrick Lujan
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Ian Gotts Accepted Answer
Not everything is a process, nor can it be written down. However, if you want something to be measured and repeatable then it needs to be documented, understood and possibly automated. The danger is that there are those who claim that in this new collaborative world nothing is a process. And that can harm a business.

We should seek out those areas where we can define, document, measure and control processes.
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Amy Barth Accepted Answer
As a business analyst it is my job to get SMEs to tell me what they do and what they need to do.  LOTS of SMEs don't really think in terms of "process" because they often deal with exceptions to the rule any given day of the week.  Sometimes there is an order to follow for certain aspects of work, but other times, things don't happen in a chronological order.  Customer Service and Patient Care come to mind as settings that may often veer in any of several directions from the beginning of the interaction.  In these settings, my SMEs can identify every if/then situation, even if they can't clearly define a process.  This doesn't making them incapable or not well-informed.  Quite the opposite, actually. 
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Just one questions pops up: Why do SME's have to tell you what they do?
  1. Emiel Kelly
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Max J. Pucher Accepted Answer
Blog Writer
All truly valuable human activity can't be described as a process and even if -- it can't be repeated that way by someone who does not have the same kind of knowledge. One has to be BPM-brainwashed to believe such an utter nonsense statement. Or simply an idiot ...

(Sorry, that kind of thing makes me emotional! And you can't describe emotional decisions in a process either!)

 
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"noun

The definition of a process is the actions happening while something is happening or being done."

You're hilarious.
  1. Patrick Lujan
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Mohammed Attar Accepted Answer
Of course not - if you can't describe what needs to get done from end-to-end, you probably need to consider a more unstructured solution - a case management solution. More and more business problems require orchestration of discrete steps in a somewhat unpredictable manner. This is caused by a variety of factors, but notably unstructured content being one of them. Unstructured content is also unpredictable - how can you act on unpredictable content with a fully repeatable process? You probably can't...
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David Chassels Accepted Answer




The answer is ask people doing their job they know and can articulate what they are doing BUT can they in context of the whole process  Hmm ...doubtful? Ask managers and our experience they think they know but in reality often not and on deeper questioning contrary to what actually happens! The confused ways the silos drive their systems that have emerged over decades does not help?

Everybody “knows what they do” but in context of articulating the process to achieve objectives most do not! Not their fault as that confused gap between people and “systems of record” remains but this where good BPM supporting software where there is transparency for all involved can change this deficiency in business. This will deliver a bottom up management approach that encourages empowerment of people (with fewer “managers”) to help to do their job effectively as part of the team all sharing knowledge of the process. Dr Deming would approve!    
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E Scott Menter Accepted Answer
Blog Writer
Well, tautologically, if you don't know what you're doing, you don't know what you're doing. I strive to pretend I know what I'm doing at all times.

On the other hand, as others have noted, not everything is a process. For example, I can't describe the "process" of raising my kids—the closest I could get was:

[list]
[*] Step 1: Try not to lose your mind.
[*] Step 2: When you begin to lose your mind, see step 1.
[/list]

So maybe not.
http://www.bplogix.com/images/icon-x-medium.png Scott
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John Morris Accepted Answer
We are getting dangerously close to asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, a sort of business process scholasticism.  Nevertheless I would defend asking the question about Deming's exhortation.  Because there's a lot at stake.  And lots of frustration around software development, of which business process software is a part.  

Deming is not saying that all work is amenable to business process technology. And he's not saying it has to be written down. Rather, he's only talking about how we talk about work.

He is saying that all work is a process, and that making such a statement increases our understanding of that work.  

Tip of the hat to Scott for highlighting the risk of Deming's statement being treated as a tautology.  If Deming's statement is to be useful, process has to have some substance.  

I claim this substance is a "discourse around work".  What this means is that "work is not a black box" and that manufacturing is not a kind of "magic", but subject of rational discourse and management science and intentionality.  

Deming's famous impact on Japan was an expression of this "opening up of the black box of work", where Japanese executives and shop floor staff alike confronted the work to be done and subjected it to rigorous analysis, while at the same time Detroit executives were happy to treat manufacturing (at a certain level) as a black box, the better to spend time golfing and fighting with the UAW over  the division of spoils.

As for the existence of "things" outside the scope of process, it's a question of semantics.  Are projects and processes really different?  Do we really care if pouring milk for a child in the morning is a process or not?  
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Bogdan Nafornita Accepted Answer
@Max, man I really like the way you posit a contrarian point of view on this forum, but sometimes you sound like you've been physically abused by some BPM practitioner back in the 80's and this is your way to get back. On this thread, it was less than cool though. Time to let go, really, you're not doing yourself a favor with such comments, because you're smart.

Now, back to the topic.

I doubt that Deming referred to raising kids and describing frustrations when he made that statement, I'm pretty sure he was talking about management methods. 

And to me his point is way more simple than we try to make it (but I'm not a consultant) - in order to describe something as a process you need to at least have a goal and understand the steps you (and others!) need to take to achieve it. And this equates to knowing what you're doing (both the goals and the actions).

Yes, to avoid tautological risk, I just added that substance to "process" - it's goals + orchestrated actions. 

Again, this tired argument of process = plan. No, process is about orchestrating actions, some can be planned and some cannot be planned, but they are all orchestrated towards a goal. 

So before I hear about how agile process and unstructured work are the ONLY way of the future and how fixed, prescribed processes are dead and should be buried, I dare anyone climb aboard the first airplane built by case workers.

 
Managing Founder, profluo.com
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RE "I dare anyone climb aboard the first airplane built by case workers." BTW, the "quality" of planes is much higher than achievable by 6S as well.
That's indeed what it is about: understanding the best way the process (the road to result) can be managed.
  1. Emiel Kelly
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Nicholas Kitson Accepted Answer
Breaking down a problem into its component parts is a basic problem solving technique. Describing business problems as a simple process has huge advantages and in fact a wide range of human activities can be summarized into a series of steps, see "The Checklist Manifesto" by Atule Gawande.  Is a process view always the most appropriate for problem solving, absolutely not, other perspectives may be more appropriate, like visiting a psychiatrist for psychological problems.  However the steps that are followed by the psychologist, can often be expressed in terms of a process, in fact when you visit any specialist, well the good ones anyway,  don't they provide an overview of the steps they are going to take to resolve your problem it's what doctors are taught as part of the bedside manner, consultants do this ad nauseum. 

So I contend we probably could describe most activities in which we engage in process terms, however it may not always the most useful or desireable thing to do.

 

 
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Agree on both counts, Checklist Manifesto, and that sometimes we don't need to "do process" even as we do our work. If you're in the flow, then thinking about the flow doesn't make sense from a cognitive cost/benefit perspective. Come to think of it, all this process thinking may just be to help us get to flow . . .
  1. John Morris
  2. 1 year ago
fully agree Nicholas, it helps to put Deming's quote into the context of Deming's work and not overly generalize the statement.

And props for quoting The Checklist Manifesto, awesome book!
  1. Bogdan Nafornita
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Peter Johnston Accepted Answer
None of us know what we are doing. Because we drive by looking in our rear-view mirror. Doing what worked last time, not what is needed this time. Thinking that markets are static, not moving faster than our company.

Process can actually make that worse. Especially the way we typically create them...

We draw down data which is already out of date. Take practices established over a considerable period as our benchmark. Ask venerable old gurus, living on past glories from decades ago, for their opinion and approval.

Even if we get the process spot on – ideal for today’s needs – it is then months or even years before it gets implemented. Time in which those needs and expectations have moved on. Competitors have caught up or moved ahead. And the whole market has matured – perhaps towards consolidation, or even commoditisation.

 

What we need is a scientific process for evolving our process. This comes in four parts…

[b]Forecasting system[/b]
which plots where your market is on the bell curve. Which works out who and what moves it on and tracks them. Perhaps even a system for ensuring your company is doing the driving.

[b]Process-Market Fit system[/b]
. Not just a one off exercise, but ongoing PM fitness training to ensure our process is continually doing what people want it to – ideally beating those expectations.

[b]Rapid re-iteration system[/b]
. Continual AB testing, to create a survival of the fittest system within our processes. A Six-Sigma style “take the biggest problem and reduce it” system.

[b]Internal communication system[/b]
. Not just “we tell, you do”, but at least a two way – “you tell, we do”. Best of all, a “we both have an input and together work out a future direction” system.

Perhaps the 21st century saying should be…

"If you haven't a process for evolving your process to keep up or get ahead, you don’t know what you’re doing."

You can quote me if you like!
Dynamic Process
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peter@dynamicprocess.uk
Comment
Thanks Bogdan for your comments.

BPM actually contains many of the tools - it gives you real-time data on not only process time, but time waiting, percentage utilisation (and headroom) and the percentage which has taken the happy path v those which are exceptions. This is often used during development, but then locked in place when the process is launched - all we need to do is link this to a visible management tool for it to be of value in informing the team of possible improvements (if the process team has a continuous improvement mindset, which most don't).

But I agree that some is beyond current systems. The tools being developed for machine learning and artificial intelligence can take this the rest of the way, also being used to automate the feedback loop to create a truly intelligent, dynamically evolving and adapting process.
  1. Peter Johnston
  2. 1 year ago
Yeah, but isn't the process for evolving the processes looking in the rearview mirror as well? :-)

I fully agree about a method for evolving process, which implies hypothesizing and then testing the hypothesis.

However, A/B testing is not realistic for processes, because it requires caeteris paribus conditions (no such thing in the real business world). For the same reason, defining and establishing process-market fit objective function and global optima is beyond the computational boundaries of any economic agent today.

I'd rather suggest to have this scientific testing done at unit level, not at E2E process level. And this implies runtime design and this is where BPM is evolving (not quickly enough).
  1. Bogdan Nafornita
  2. 1 year ago
Sounds like cybernetics.
  1. John Morris
  2. 1 year ago
there is a fundamental problem of defining the objective function: what is the optimal outcome of a process? in what context? what about the value that lies in coreographing various processes? not sure if machine learning / artificial intelligence can fix that.

where AI can help is leading the optimization process towards that objective function.

also we need to watch out for seductive phrases like AI - as one who has this extensively, the word "intelligence" is overrated - most of these AI algorithms are just non-linear optimization patterns and there is a clear fit-for-purpose aspect when it comes to their optimization power. One example: ANN's (artificial neural networks) are mostly good at pattern recognition, not on other domains.
  1. Bogdan Nafornita
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