An interesting debate is going on over at BPM.com over a comment I made a couple of weeks ago about what processes should, and should not, be automated.
I keep going back to job titles. How many Directors actually direct, how many Managers manage, how many Team Leaders lead, and how many Supervisors supervise? Daily I meet too many captains charged with navigating the business who spend too much time (frequently all of their time) emptying the bilge, stoking the engines and plugging the leaks to do the job they are en-titled (my hyphen) to do.
The naval metaphor is chosen deliberately. Process optimization has been at the core of the naval service for centuries. The ship that could fire and reload the fastest would win. The crew that could make the best use of the wind would catch and take the prize. Everyone had a job that was well defined, expectations were clear and exceptions dealt with (alas) harshly. Efficiency, accuracy and optimal use of resources were, and are still today, a matter of life and death.
When the process machine is running well there is time to reflect upon what can be done to improve. When the status telemetry alerts us we have time to re-balance the resources and coach those who need it. When the data points us we can shift our business around the storm or catch the breeze before anyone else.
For the crew it is the “what am I doing?”: process automation for them is about delivering products and services with the utmost efficiency and accuracy. For the officers it is the “why am I doing it?”: it is about having the time to think about where they are going and how they can get there safely, quickly and cheaply.
“What” should always be automated. “Why” can never be automated.