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So when did process become a dirty word

Posted by  Andrew Rixon —December 4, 2005
Filed in Communication

In a past post I raised an issue with the word ‘facilitation’ calling it a fat word. A comment of Nancy White’s got me thinking when she asked “When did process become a dirty word anyway, and why?”… I decided to take a look around:

I just found that ‘process’ also appears in Don Watson’s dictionary of weasel words, contemporary cliches, cant and management jargon … Hmmm… I wonder…

About  Andrew Rixon

6 Responses to “So when did process become a dirty word”

  1. Matt Moore Says:

    Andrew – surely this is about the ebb & flow of different business concepts & approaches.
    Or the more cynical may label it business fashion. “Simply everyone is wearing self-organization this season, dahrlink”
    Creative types – writers among them – do not like constraints imposed from the outside. Nor do the bloody-minded individualists & libertarians that make up most of the blogosphere (if they were more communally minded they’d probably be into wikis). Hence the dislike of process. Which is all about hierarchically-imposed or communally-agreed order.
    However, all work is not like writing/blogging (well, for most of us anyway) – and even creative types need guidelines and deadlines (if only to give them something to bitch about).
    The death of process is somewhat overstated.
    What’s your take on that?

  2. Denham Says:

    process vs. practice is a neat way to judge KM opportunities:
    http://denham.typepad.com/km/2005/05/practice_or_pro.html

  3. Andrew Rixon Says:

    Thanks Matt. I agree that the debate over process appears to be a cyclical trend. Maybe much like centralisation vs decentralisation.
    I think ‘process’ is also important for organisational learning. For me, I view this much like the creation of a heuristic. In a way, practice then gets turned into process. The danger is when the these heuristics are taken for granted. Bob Dick has called this ‘accidents of history’. Where organisations form habits which made sense some time in its past but now doesn’t.
    I like Denhams post on process vs practice as a way of delving into the cultural aspects of KM programs within companies.

  4. Chui Tey Says:

    Hi Andrew,
    Unfortunately, “process” has taken on the meaning of hardening, when in fact it is necessary to recognize some problems are best solved using a freestyle process, while others should run semi-guided.
    When inputs are highly variable, the process should be more reactive, and not static. This is particularly difficult to codify and even harder to automate. Consultants running around talking about process can only add value in static situations, but tend to weigh down fluid environment with too many conditional rules, and some which are not particularly well thought through.
    There is nothing wrong with heavyweight processes in the right situation. It is the right of everyone charged with a crime to have due process served in the courts. This is why litigation is necessarily expensive.
    Process has been touted as being able to guide someone else to do a person’s job. If such things exist, why are companies being run by CEOs and not processes. It is essential to recognize that most work is complex, and require human judgement. “Work-to-rule” is clear demonstration that under the full weight of process, throughput grinds to a halt.

  5. Andrew Rixon Says:

    Hi Chui,
    Great to hear your thoughts.
    One thing which tweaked my interest:
    “Consultants running around talking about process can only add value in static situations, but tend to weigh down fluid environment with too many conditional rules, and some which are not particularly well thought through.”
    Putting on my Anecdote circle facilitators’ cap, I’d love to ask “Can you give an example?”
    Warm regards,
    Andrew

  6. Chui Tey Says:

    I once worked on a project that was legally required to have a fixed process for community consultation. There are clear limits to what process means here. One thing is for sure, you can’t predetermine how things will turn out, and the outcomes can be multimodal. You might end up with a very public PR campaign against your program, for instance.
    I love how the NSW government touts community consultation about the desalination plant, but insisting it will not alter the outcome.

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