A process approach to enterprise 2.0

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I recently came across an old post in which  Andrew McAfee stated:

While creating an innovative business process is less visible than developing a new product or investing in factories, our research shows it is actually more important to a company’s success. Intangible process capital is changing the way companies operate and the capabilities they possess. As a result, it also is changing the way they compete.

Generally speaking it’s obvious that the more a business makes progress in its enterprise 2.0 project the more it has to deal with processes. Some settle that in an natural and intuitive way without even raising the issue but for many others it needs a more analytic approach.

There are many reasons why the issue can’t be neglected :

• Some organizations tried to put everything into processes, even what was not relevant. As a result, there is very few room to develop less structured logics.

• Processes appears to be for what’s mandatory. As a result, what is not a process appears to be optinal and of lower importance what does not make it easy to motivate and engage employees.

• Companies used to keep under a high control what impacts value creation. If we want anything 2.0 to contribute to value creation, it has to articulate with what already exists, build bridges and deal with zones of overlapping.

• Businesses that successfully made their first steps in the world of 2.0 without tackling the issue, a time comes when they need to think synergies between processes and informal practices to go further.

Even if we don’t have so much hindsight in this field, we begin to have some ideas about how to tackle processes in the 2.0 era, according to their nature.

• Heavy processes relying on structured datas.

In general, those processes in which people’s only part is to enter datas at an end of the chain and read dashboards at the other end after information has been processed and consolidated are not in our scope. In large businesses, for this kind of work, people cause errores and slowness so the less they have to do the better it is. On the contrary, even if people don’t have much value in execution they have a part to play in a collaborative ongoing improvement approach aiming at improving the process in question.

We often hear that if a process is not broken we don’t have to fix it. That’s true. But we should also add that we must not wait it’s broken to think about improving it and figure out what was becoming wrong in it.

• Structuting process partly relying on unstructured information

Unlike the previous point, no machine or system can run the process alone here. Tools can help to structure and pilot on a global scale but human worlk is needed to proceed through the different steps of the process. For instance, we can mention a sales, innovation or recruiting process. So, we’re talking about processes that are supposed to be rigids but whose exectution relies on people’s capacity to find answers, information, contacts…. Here,  building a social system around the process allows a faster execution and a higher quality level. It’s an “in the flow” approach, which I think is the more senseful for people who are lookin for sense, rationality and tangible benefits.

Such logics are supported by “activity specific social software” or more generalists platforms, the latter needing a certain kind of discipline to build relevant enterprise-scale usages.

Of course, the ongoing improvement approach also applies here.

• Un-process, mainly unstructured

That’s about all what does not fit into any of the above mentioned points (and what used to be forced to fit in for ages…causing the disappointments we all know). That’s the “third way” whose inexistence and lack of tools to support it used to make businesses do many mistakes and whose emergence should allow organizations to have an operating model that fits with any situation rather than trying to push suare pegs into round holes.

That’s at the same time the sequel of the previous point and the answer to what was not predictable and does not have a dedicated operating model.

In the other hand, people feel always lost and uncomfortable with this approach. Since they are used to follow rigid models, finding themselves with a large autonomy in un-constrained work and collaboration places make they suffer from vertigo and agoraphobia. Consequently, they are asking for a kind of guiding line to follow in order to reassure them.

The answer may be what I call social routine. One can find paradoxical that the answer to the absence of process is to set something that aims at structuring something that’s unstructured by nature. That’s whay I call it a routine because it’s more about a mindset and a bunch of reflexes that will even become unconscious as time will go by. This is illustrated in the schema I proposed here.

At the end, it’s not that complicated. It’s only about applying the right logic to the right situation and put the right issues in the right holes…