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Images of Process

Blog: Process transformation - interventions for meaningful change

We live in dynamic times. New images of organization appear. New business models. New organization operating models and cultures. New roles. And a growing shift to knowledge workers, dynamic processes and increased autonomy of employees.
What is surprising that in the midst of this all, the images of ‘Process’ are staying quite fixed. I think this deteriorates the power of process driven interventions. It limits us, through the limited lenses that these images provide, in seeing broader pictures. As more and more organization questions are turning ‘wicked’, solutions can not be developed in isolation. Other process images are needed, that should help us recognize and integrate key elements of the broader context processes are part of. In the years I have been involved in process innovation and improvement, I have been pondering on this one question – what’s a process. What other viewpoints can we find, other images that help us enhance our perspective?
I want to discuss 6 images of process I found, using 6 different definitions. Each of these definitions help us see various of these key elements.

Definition 1: A process is a chain of activities, executed by various actors, to transform input to output, to provide a service or product to a customer. 
This definition, and tons of comparable ones form our most common image of process. It creates an automatic focus on activities: what happens when why how where and by who. In it’s essence, it’s fine – it has helped many organizations to increase efficiency and improve quality. It’s one of the foundations of the industrial revolution. But it is also limiting us. Let’s explore other additional definitions.
Key elements: activities, efficiency, quality

Definition 2: A process is the stuff we do to delight the customer, by providing the right value and experience
I like this definition, because it helps us to focus on one of the process stakeholders that is critical for the success of people’s work within an organization: the customer (internal or external).
This helps us to think outside-in in two ways:
– From a value perspective : what is the need of the customer? How do we provide the right value?).
This is one of the key elements in for instance Lean, to help us focus on understanding the voice of the customer, provide the right value and get rid of waste.
– From an experience perspective : how does the customer want to be treated? What types of interactions during the customer journey (the moments of truth) create a positive experience?
Note that using the phrase ‘The customer’ has a risk leading to generalization of our customer view. Remembering that customers are all different people is an important step – and segmentation and use of persona’s can help us to keep this in mind. Even better – co-creation of process designs is even a better step.
Key elements: customer, outside-in, customer journey, interactions, value, experience

Definition 3: A process is the behavior of a specific group of people and machines, in response to a certain trigger
This definition reminds us, that in the end, it’s about behavior of specific people. We can create great to-be process models, but in the end successful process-transformation is about changing behavior of people. It helps us to discover the value of change management, of personal transformation, learning processes.
It requires us to understand people. And it prevents us from the illusion that you can design a process and roles and then simply ‘shove’ people in the boxes, arrows and swim lanes.
Key elements: people, behavior, learning, psychology of change

Definition 4: A process is a specific game in which various people, with various interests and stakes, attempt to reach certain objectives (which may be be derived from personal, departmental, company or other goals)
Every process analyst and designer know that improving processes can be tricky business. Various stakeholders around a process have different interests. Perfect alignment is difficult to achieve, but one needs to be aware of these interests and stakes, to be able to come to consensus.  Both process design and execution are stakeholder games.
I also like the word ‘Game’. Webster defines it as ‘a physical or mental activity or contest that has rules and that people do for pleasure’. It opens the perspective of gamification, where we can introduce game-like constructs in processes to make them (more) fun.
Key elements: stakeholders, stakes/interests, alignment, consensus or compromises, games, gamification

Definition 5: A process is a social and mental structure in which people can position their activities and collaborations, and in which people might find motivation, safety and meaning through their experiences. 
This definition I am still working on – to sharpen and to digest. It’s about an intuitive feeling that processes can help us to create meaning and motivation. To help us find and understand our place in society, organization and various contexts. For me, this is about employee experience en engagement. I see processes that do not create safety (people unsure, insecure and under pressure), do not create motivation (struggling people, with repeated boring tasks and repeated problems) nor (positive) meaning. This definition resonates little with current BPM-thinking, which is, in my view, a shame.
Key elements: people, meaning, motivation, (social/psychological) safety

Definition 6: A process is a living work of art, in which people are in flow and their work and interactions form a choreography with aesthetic value
Have you have been part of a team-effort, in which you felt a deep appreciation of the beauty of good collaboration? Where activities almost had a musical rhythm? The feeling of ‘check check check’. The feeling of ‘yes yes yes’. Perhaps you have seen it in sports, where certain games transcended winning or loosing, to pure fun and flow. Or when you where dancing with someone (salsa, tango), and the moves of you and your partner blended in beautifully.
Maybe, deeply, this is what we all are looking for – creating the conditions for people to thrive, to be able to work in deep flow, and create beautiful performances of experience for all stakeholders that are involved.
Key elements: flow, beauty, thriving

These are the images I have at this stage in my development. I have felt that all of them have enriched my work as process consultant. Seeing broader perspectives and bigger contexts. Adding more value.

What images of process do you have? How have they helped you to see new perspectives?

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