The Universal Business Language: Process

When Noah Webster produced the first edition of his American Dictionary of the English Language in April 1828, he insisted that: “As an independent nation, our honor [sic] requires us to have a system of our own, in language as well as government.”  And so, by the fall of that year, as the view from the railroad caboose showed leaves in a blaze of color, American English had moved center stage…

Seriously though, Webster’s use of language to create a new ‘superior’ identity for his ‘tribe’ is an interesting example of how languages diverge. As evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel points out in a fascinating essay in New Scientist this week, linguistic diversity is rooted in the desire to assert the identity of a ‘tribe’, most often against a backdrop of conflict over territory and resources:  “There really has been a war of words going on”.

One of the many extraordinary phenomena of our time is the speed with which a truly global language is emerging.  The result, says Pagel, is “a mass extinction of languages to rival the great biological extinctions in Earth’s past”.

One in six of us on the planet may speak Mandarin but humanity is rapidly converging upon English as its auxiliary language. Vastly more people learn English as a second language than any other. Global corporations may be headquartered in Germany, France, China or Spain but English is almost invariably their adopted global language.

But in the world of work, and especially in the world of global business, English only goes so far.  Work is increasingly complex. Most often, it requires collaboration between many people, in different regions and organizational units, with different motivations and with different roles and responsibilities – and all enabled and automated by IT systems.

To even describe work in this context is challenging.  To collaborate effectively, to exploit new opportunities in an increasingly interconnected and cumulatively more complex world, demands a language above and beyond English.

In the same way that, through no plan or expressed intent, simply for the benefits it brings, English is becoming the world’s favourite auxiliary language, so too with process, which, by a similar evolutionary path, has emerged as the global business language essential for effective collaboration. Procure to Pay, Value Chains, Operating Models, Lean Manufacturing, Hire to Retire, Order to Cash, Supply Chains – these terms have emerged as part of the everyday vocabulary of process.

This new world calls for a new conception of process.  To be fit for use, it can no longer be the preserve of a corporate elite – in IT or Quality or the Six Sigma team – it has to be universal.  It needs to connect with people doing real work: to support them and to enable them to contribute to improving the way things are done. And so it has, above all, to be engaging: visual, intuitive and personalised.

No surprise then that a process management platform is coming to be seen as the beating heart of the 21st century enterprise, the essential infrastructure that enables effective collaboration on innovation and continuous improvement.

Noah Webster was a revolutionary and idealist so I think he would probably approve of the way global languages are bringing humanity closer. Either way, he must be tickled pink that a Brit is writing this in American English.


Related Posts

19 Nov 2012    No Corporate Asset Is Wasted So Spectacularly

28 Aug 2012    The ROI On Process Visualization 

© Text Michael Gammage 2012

Process Management And Google Maps

Would you rely on Google Maps if you knew it was incomplete, in different formats, languages and UIs – and that much of it was out-of-date? I don’t think so.

But ask the same question in an enterprise context and the answer would often be ‘Yes’.  An extraordinary number of businesses rely upon enterprise process maps that are incomplete, in different formats, languages and UIs – and seriously out-of-date.

Google of course saw the potential in location-based services in a mobile world and continues to invest heavily. But as Google’s Mr Maps, Brian McClendon, noted in an interview at the weekend, everything depends upon having a solid map base:

“You need to have the basic structure of the world so you can place the relevant information on top of it. If you don’t have an accurate map, everything else is inaccurate”.

So Google provides MapMaker and other tools so that its users can get engaged: in providing feedback, even in real-time editing and extension of its coverage. That user engagement helps to drive high levels of accuracy in Google maps.

Imagine an enterprise process map by Google Maps: a visualization of how the peaks of the operating model link to the valleys of everyday operational reality. With this basic structure of the business accurately mapped, it becomes possible to do much more:

  • orchestrate business transformation
  • underpin Lean Sigma and continuous improvement
  • connect risk and compliance management with business reality
  • ensure IT alignment and enable business-led systems implementations
  • support front-line people doing real work.

But to do this, an enterprise process map too has to be accurate. It is the base map of the enterprise – the foundation upon which everything else is built. So it has to be properly developed and managed. It has to be comprehensive and integrated, and within a robust governance framework. Critically, it has to be in the language of the business because engagement is the key to its sustainability.

Adopt the language of IT – swimlanes, BPMN symbols – and it’s a fatal obstacle to engagement with process stakeholders and users. Engagement requires the language of the business – which is why the adoption of Universal Process Notation (UPN) by virtually every Nimbus client may seem arcane but actually it’s very significant.

There’s another significant parallel here: the importance of personalization. Users don’t want Google Maps as a replacement atlas to browse on their smartphones. They want Google Maps to present them with content that is about their preferences, their location and their time of day.

It’s exactly the same with enterprise process maps.  Users want to be presented with content that is about their role, their KPIs and in their language – that helps them to do their job.  But how many organizations simply create an enterprise atlas and then post it on the corporate intranet?

Related Posts

10 Dec 2012    Sustainable Improvement And Packing The Dishwasher

17 Dec 2010    The Tube Map: Process Made Easy 

© Text Michael Gammage 2012

Process Improvement And Packing The Dishwasher

I love this picture.  I saw this hearfelt and passionate plea in a kitchen area on the campus of a leading Life Sciences company.

The complete and total frustration, nay depair, of the author is evident. And the scrawled response “or you will be sent to bed” just makes it more hilarious.

What’s interesting, though, is that this is one of the most organised and diligent organisations I’ve ever worked with. And everyone I’ve ever met there is bright, switched on and seemingly hard-wired for collaboration. This is the last place you’d expect to see freeloaders and a societal breakdown.

I took another picture on that same campus that day.  I was knocked out by  an official corporate comms poster on a restroom wall.  [Don’t worry – if I ever come to your workplace, I do know how to behave…] 

It was an outstanding poster on the theme of collaboration, and, in particular, on the value of simplicity in allowing everyone to get engaged and work more efficiently. I can’t show the whole poster without revealing the organization (and probably infringing copyright) but here’s part of it.

Even organizations such this – an organization that installs in its restrooms high quality artwork promoting process as an enabler for more effective collaboration – even such an organization can still fall apart when it comes to packing the dishwasher.

There’s a lesson here. If process is to fulfil its potential as the language of the enterprise, then it absolutely has to be simple – capable of being understood by everyone. And if process management is to be the platform that enables effective collaboration across the enterprise, then it absolutely has to be robust but also intuitive and engaging. Otherwise it’s about as sustainable as a kitchen rota.

Related Posts

19 Nov 2012    No Other Corporate Asset Is Wasted So Spectacularly

05 Sep 2012    Translating An Operating Model Into Real Work

© Text Michael Gammage 2012