An expansion of People, Process and Technology

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —April 10, 2008
Filed in Employee Engagement

“We have to consider people, process and technology.” It’s a phrase I hear quite often, especially among IT folk. Sometimes they say, “people, process, technology and content.” These are the things to consider when implementing a system. There are a myriad of variations. Yesterday I was told by an experienced consultant that they always consider policy when thinking about process. “People, process and technology” has entered our business thinking much like proverbs such as “a stitch in time saves nine.” They create the framework for our thinking and both guide and constrain our actions.

I’d like to focus on the Process element of this business proverb and would like to suggest that this word creates a limited and inadequate response when thinking about what happens to make a system work. The word ‘process’ suggests all those things you can describe and write down, especially using boxes and arrows. Yet we know professional practice and even expert craft is required to get things done. So here is my suggestion. When we use the PPT (all business proverbs should have an acronym—my little joke) let’s expand ‘Process’ and include Practice and Craft. Here is a short-hand way of thinking about it.

  • Process is what you are told to do
  • Practice is what everyone does
  • Craft is striving for utmost quality with years of experience under your belt

And the ways to understand these three modes also differs but it’s hard to categorise except to say that many processes can be analysed, many practices can be observed and illustrated with stories and craft can be observed, experienced and appreciated but takes years to learn.

I’m certain better systems will emerge if we take this wider view of process.


About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Matt Moore says:

    In The Social Life of Information, John Seely-Brown & Paul Duguid discuss the relationship between process & practice. There was an CIO magazine article in 2000 where they had a debate with Mike Hammer (Mr BPR) on practice vs process but it no longer appears to be online.
    I like your inclusion of “craft” as well.
    The other important distinction is between “process” as repeatable activities and non-repeatable activities (“events”???). The less repeatable the activity, the more important expertise (craft?) becomes.

  2. Patti Anklam says:

    I have used the “people, process, technology” in my five-part framework (the other parts are mission and organization) for many years. About 4 years ago I substituted “work practices” for “process” as it made so much more sense and because “process” has so many negative connotations, especially in the engineering environments of some clients.
    Agree with Matt: craft is good, and aspirational.

  3. Andy Lyon says:

    In systems implementations a varient on your theme is also workflow. The parts of the process or pratice which are specifically system driven and deliberately drive a particular behaviour (action). Workflow can be effective around control points – but as referred to in the comments above, fails to take in the broader context of non-repeatable events, non-binary decision making and experience. I really like the key message of this point of view – PPT makes me cringe.

  4. kevin shea says:

    I too have used the PPT phrase continually in my consulting. But I tend to make it simpler by suggesting it is who we are, what we do, and what we use to improve what we do. I am heavily involved in automotive industry and often comment that Toyota is people, process, technology, while US firms are technology, process, people. The missing element of PPT is another P – politics, or the framework in which PPT exists. How often as consultants do we fight to keep people first? What else influences PPT that results in a skewing of what many believe should be a mantra for all companies? ( as Patti suggests part of the framework is the mission and the organization)
    I would comment that, IMO, IT has consistently approached application development from a TPP basis, evidenced by an ever present array of failed solutions and backlash from users (people). Is Web 2.0 an opportunity for people to wrench control over technology? Is that why people like it? Will IT organizations resist movements to Web 2.0 in order to maintain control over the technology first culture? How will Web 2.0 contribute to reinforce PPT.

Comments are closed.