A Bad Process Will Beat a Good Person, Every Time

Business process improvement expert Ray Gagnon put together an op-ed for The Huffington Post. It opens with a conversation about the parable of the blind men and the elephant.

As most readers know, the story talks about how several men tried to describe an elephant, but only succeeded in accurately outlining the body part that they could touch. Gangon’s interpretation:

The point of the parable is simply this: Each of these men is right — for his part of the elephant. Yet, in the more important, holistic sense of accurately describing what an elephant is really like, every one of them is ultimately very wrong.

…this parable perfectly mirrors what life is like for so many people who manage a piece of an important business process. All too often, although they are acutely aware of their part of a given process — the part they “touch” — they are “blind” to its other pieces and, therefore, completely unaware of what the whole process really looks like. Without this ability to see “the whole elephant,” as it were, they also can’t ever properly understand how what they do affects this important process or others involved in it. Given this reality, is it any wonder, then, that so many of our business processes are sub-optimized and so much less effective and efficient than they could be?

Elephant and Business Process Improvement

© Flickr user DrBartje

The author also quotes famous management consultant W. Edwards Deming:

A bad process will beat a good person every time.

All of this talk of business process improvement and the silo effect should inspire another pair of questions.

Why is business process improvement so necessary? Why do become so focused on our own silo that we can’t see the bigger picture?

It’s easy to suggest that all problems are management problems. Or to blame employee engagement and turnover.

The most significant issue, however, may be that of incentives. We are encouraged to stay in our areas, keep our heads down, and focus on the problems at hand. This hyperspecialization does enable organizations to create incredible end products but also fosters sprawling bureaucracies.

It also makes us do things which make no sense whatsoever.

As Deming says, a bad process will beat a good person, every single time. Maybe that’s why so many good people are going elsewhere.

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