I love this post on Unpredictable Work posted by Keith Swenson, VP for R&D at Fujitsu America. I read it three times. Keith’s post is actually an abridged email thread between himself and Jean-Jaques Dubray. To summarize and GREATLY oversimplify – one thinks some work can’t be predicted, the other thinks it can. One thinks process and activity modeling is of value, the other thinks states and transitions are what matters. Ironically – the synthesis for their opposing viewpoints may be represented by the banner image on Mr. Swneson’s own blog. My kitchen table critique of the two is that they are both essentially correct. The difference between them is not so much a lack of truth in either’s argument. As I read through the discussion it dawned on me that true understanding of any business process is analogous to the measurement of a coastline.
Complexity and predictability of a process seem to be function of an undefined measurement representing the distance of the process from an observer/modeler and the unit of measure employed in the design. The “distance” could be linear time or state transition or some other arbitrary. Using their patient example to illustrate. If I want to understand a hospital accepting a patient – exactly how much of that process do I want to understand.
Do I want to know how to get from “arriving person” to “admitted patient” or do I want to get from “injured person” to “well person.” Both are overlapping state transitions affecting the same resources but the measurement of the two is very different. One is essentially confirmed with something as simple as a database record being created, the other involves a complete understanding of the patients physiological condition. To under stand the later as clearly as the former one would necessarily need to model much more “closely.”
This example illustrates how predictability can be described as possible but remain rationally impractical. I can predictively model a process for patient admission. Living or dying as a matter of process modeling is quite another thing.
This brings me back to Mandelbrot. I am NOT a mathemation and most of my work in theoretical physics is a direct result of watching the Discovery Channel. Fractals have been applied to the stock market to be sure but I wonder if anyone specifically examined BPM for the same priniciples of self-similarity within and organizations. What do you think?