Oh, the Humanity!

By Steve Weissman posted 08-09-2011 15:43


During my AIIM webinar last week on BPM and workflow, the conversation at one point turned toward how hard it can be to solicit information about how an organization’s business processes actually work. One of our attendees then wondered whether the issue often isn’t simply that people don’t want to be responsible for process design, and my mental gears started spinning.

Her remark captured my attention because it spoke directly to the human element that I’m ever more convinced is the single greatest contributor to (or detractor from) a solution’s success.

I believe our commenter is onto something because taking responsibility for how other people work is not for the faint of heart – I mean, who really wants to set him- or herself up for all the snide comments about how little we know about what goes on in other departments, and who do we think we are, anyway, to make recommendations as to how to make things better?

But I also  believe there are other factors at work here. My experience tells me that as much as people don’t want to snoop into other people’s work habits, the much bigger issue is that people in organizations really don’t know what their business processes are, and they’ve never really thought about asking. And why would they? After all, aren’t things working just fine even without knowing?

It is here that our webinar participant’s suggested causality comes into play, for it is here that folks suddenly realize they don’t even know whom or what to ask. No one wants to feel ignorant – especially in front of one’s coworkers – and when it becomes clear that this process investigation “thing” is going to eat into their regular responsibilities for a significant chunk of time, the game then often comes to an abrupt end.

The bottom line here is that organizations must keep human behavior in mind right from the get-go, for even the initial taking of the operational temperature can be fraught with psychological challenges. This is one reason I often tell clients I’m going to show up dressed in a striped shirt and a whistle, for even the most gentle process mapping exercise can raise tensions that only an impartial referee can resolve.

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