Happy New Year. Let's look to the future.
At present, the day to day focus of most people with an interest in business processes is probably to define and then streamline the workplace activities of manufacturing or service organizations. Will this still be the case in ten years?
The primary aim of all workplace improvement is increasing automation, which is inseparable from increasing transparency. You can't automate an activity unless you identify and agree its inputs, outputs, resources, and guidelines – and conversely, defining these aspects leads inexorably to partial or full automation.
Despite the social impacts of automation, which often leads to outsourcing in order to benefit from economies of scale, few people doubt that increasing automation is inevitable, or try to turn back the clock. However, there are still some areas untouched by automation and transparency.
Every organization has one such area – senior management. Despite the many formal tools available to support strategic leadership, the operation of most organizations at the highest level is still an art rather than a science (some might say a black art). Further, there are entire areas of activity in which BPMN-style business processes have little or no place, such as deal negotiations, mergers and acquisitions, and politics.
Is it a coincidence that these areas are the core focus of current social unrest? Populist slogans such as “drain the swamp” play on widespread belief that lack of transparency in business and social leadership is leading to amoral, unfair practices that benefit only a few in positions of privilege. However, it seems unlikely that replacing one set of actors with another drawn largely from the same socio-economic class is going to make much difference.
Systemic change requires a fundamental shift in how non-transparent areas of activity are conducted. In other words, a process approach is required – but you cannot simply use the same process approach that is applied to other workplace activities. For many years, I have argued in books, this Column and elsewhere that current notational techniques and tools are inappropriate for capturing and improving processes that are primarily collaborative, and hence focused on overarching goals rather than on detailed activities.
There is a growing feeling worldwide that fundamental aspects of modern society need fixing. Process professionals can help – but only if they take a wider view of what processes are, and what process analysis has the potential to achieve.