Shooting the breeze with a molecular biologist over seasonal turkey, I was stunned to realize that the way our cells work together, to create healthy organisms like you and me, provides a rich, multi-layered model of the way in which healthy organizations should work.
We have around 100 trillion cells in our bodies. Maybe 102 trillion, post festivities.
We have hundreds of types of cell but, gametes aside, every cell in our bodies contains our unique DNA. Set out along its double helix structure, and using just the four letter CAGT alphabet, our nuclear DNA is transcribed via RNA into the proteins which ultimately define and make us function. Change any aspect of it and you change the person.
The idea that business process represents an organization’s DNA is not new. But, by and large, it’s been seen as just a vague analog. Look more closely though and it gets interesting. In every cell, DNA is always written:
within the same format – the double helix structure. It’s always there; we don’t have cells with no double helix. And it’s always complete; we don’t have cells with fragments of partial helix structures.
in the same language. We don’t have cells using different languages, or subsets of CAGT. It’s worth noting too that the CAGT language may be ‘simple’ but it’s still capable of communicating to its ‘audiences’ exactly how to code for proteins – and whatever else they need to know.
So the analogy comes to life. A process management platform is the double helix for the enterprise. It’s complete and integrated and present in every cell of the organization. And its language is standard and capable of engaging and enabling every one of its audiences.
There’s more. Cells also contain mitochondria, the power plants that make possible life as we know it. Without energy from mitochondria, we would be blobs of jelly, unable to move. Mitochondria are immensely powerful in the cellular world. Comparable in many ways to the role of IT in the enterprise. Most modern enterprises would collapse immediately without systems and automation. IT is to the enterprise what the mitochondrion is to the cell: the essential powerhouse.
It gets better. Mitochondria have their own distinct DNA (which we inherit only through our mothers, but that’s another story). The point is that every cell has two sets of DNA – nuclear DNA and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).
The nuclear DNA is much larger and drives change but in many cases depends upon mtDNA input. Nuclear DNA, for instance, controls 99% of what it takes to make more mitochondria (and therefore extra energy) but the 1% of mtDNA input is essential.
So our cells work – and we live – because nuclear DNA (the business) and mtDNA (the IT powerhouse) always work in concert, and share a common language – CAGT. Nature confirms what we see in the world of organizations: that sustainable improvement always depends upon effective collaboration, facilitated by a common language and within a defined (governance) framework.
One further parallel. As we have evolved, our mtDNA has shrunk significantly. Some mtDNA capabilities have migrated to become embedded within an ever-expanding nuclear DNA. Which sounds rather like how the IT mindset has, in some ways and over the last two decades, migrated to become embedded within mainstream business thinking. Not because IT is any less important. In fact, it’s happened because IT is now so important.
13 Dec 2012 The Universal Business Language: Process
11 Dec 2012 Process Management and Google Maps