Every epidemiologist (as well as every science fiction fan) is thinking about the risk of a worldwide pandemic. Interestingly, the most important tool in understanding the spread of disease was invented in 1854.
In that year, a cholera epidemic struck an area in the West End of London. The popular theory at the time insisted that the disease was caused by “bad air,” not contracted between hosts. Dr. John Snow was skeptical of this claim and began interviewing residents in the area. He eventually concluded that the cholera came from a community water pump. Once the handle was removed, the outbreak subsided. Snow’s most compelling evidence is also his legacy: a map of the Broad Street outbreak.
Even without extensive training in epidemiology or statistics, one can easily see that the black dots are clustered around a central point. The markings indicate cases of cholera, and the central point was the location of the Broad Street pump. A simple visualization offers profound insight. The map drawn by John Snow launched an entire field of medical research studying the behavior of disease among a population.
At AccelaWork, we also find that drawing a map of an operation can offer amazing revelations. Our business consultants work with stakeholders to learn the basics of UML (Unified Modeling Language) and BPMN (Business Process Modeling Notation) so that they can begin to draw maps of their own business procedures. Just like John Snow’s efforts, these diagrams allow us to move above the chaos of everyday firefighting to understand the underlying factors. Sometimes, solving systemic issues is as easy as removing a pump handle.