Self organising and optimising business process

I've spoken here often of the democratisation of the tools of production, something that is happening across so many technological and business domains. We are entering an age where anyone with the will to do something has the tools to do so. Talent becomes the key differentiator rather than access to capital and resources.

Anyway, yesterday I was talking with a group of people here at the bank about this kind of future, and we got into a discussion about what happens when we put the tools needed to created business processes into the hands of anyone at all, something we are just starting to do here, by the way.

In a command and control organisation, of course, such a concept is intolerable. For every given process, there must be one true way of doing things. Because it is the one true way, every single eventuality has to be understood up front, and a rigorous change process applied to make sure things don't break.

But when anyone can create a process, you get proliferation of different ways to do the same thing. Holiday leave applications and tracking? Everyone can build a way of doing it, and continue to use it whilst ever it is convenient to do so.

The thing is, business processes of this kind can be considered to be social media as much as a blog or wiki page. They attract audiences (users) and the ones with the greatest numbers are, ipso facto, the ones that an institution uses to move forwards. By attrition from lack of use, bad processes go away by themselves.

In other words, the set of business processes that make up an institution comprise a self organising, evolutionary system. In nature, such systems respond very flexibility to changes in their environments, moving immediately to the most optimised use of resources available.

Let there be multiple ways of doing the same thing, and let the end-users decided with their feet which ones they like to use! Its how open-source has worked for years now.

That's quite a contrast to a monolithic process established on behalf of users by some faceless re-engineering entity, with little or no consideration of whether the process is actually convenient and works. And God forbid if something changes, because then its necessary to get a budget, start a project, and engage a (probably) overworked IT team.

Now I am not suggesting that major customer facing business processes should be self-evolving and user generated, at least not yet.  But the fact of the matter is that around the edges of any major business processes, there are already lots of different ways of doing things, all dreamed up by workers to make their jobs easier.

How does a paper based customer record get from the fax machine to the computer system in the branch? Probably via a folder marked “for entry” in some branches and done in batch, and carried immediate it arrives to a terminal for keying in others. Individuals and work groups create processes for themselves all the time which are optimised for the work, and styles of working, they prefer.

The democratisation of the tools of production of business processes adds to what is already going on in one simple way: it makes it possible for any worker to publish their way of working to others.

That's a fundamental new ability, because it means that the best workers can replicate what makes them successful. Its a capability that will give any organisation who cracks the code of doing it a significant competitive advantage.

2 Responses to“Self organising and optimising business process”

  1. October 15, 2008 at 3:20 pm #

    On democratisation of tools:
    Suddenly, creating an “API for yourself” (e.g. defining how you interact with the rest of your economic value stream) can be a core competence.
    (Not my idea; adapted from Ethan Bauley /
    The “capital v. talent” debate:
    At the end of the day, businesses are people. And many of the tools we see today are making it easier for companies to personalize themselves, to provide more transparency, not less; while this can be scary for a company as they lose some control over the message, product and customer interaction, the fact is it’s a greater competitive opportunity than a threat.
    For more on “capital v. talent”, check out Roger Martin for two articles on the subject:
    Fall 2003:
    Fall 2008:

  2. October 16, 2008 at 10:53 am #

    Those are great references Taylor. Thanks for putting them up.

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