May 2, 2009

Process standardization & EA

The april edition of Harvard Business Review (HBR) had an interesting article with the title "when should a process be art, not science?". One interesting aspect of HBR articles is the fact that they have an "idea in brief" section. For this particular article this reads:
  • Ironically, process standardization can undermine the very performance it's meant to optimize. Many processes work best when they're treated like artistic work rather than rigidly controlled.
  • To decide if a process should be more scientific, look for these conditions: inputs to the process are variable (for example, no two pieces of wood used in making piano soundboards are alike), and customer value variations in the process output (each pianist appreciates the distinctive sound and feel of his piano)
  • If a process is artistic, invest in giving employees the skills, judgement, and cultural appreciation to exel in variable conditions. Ritz Carlton, for example, recaptured its reputation for unrivaled service when it empowered employees to iprovise their responses to individual guests' needs.
This idea seems sound, yet not terribly novel. Still, I think it is important to keep this in mind, especially for enterprise architects, especially since architects tend to see (process/ information system / infrastructure) standardization as the holy grail.

Another interesting aspect of the article is the way artistic processes are identified. According to the authors, processes with high variability and positive value of output variations to customers are artistic (the three other types identified in the classic 2x2 matrix are: mass customization, mass processes, and nascent of broken processes). Unfortunately, the article prescribes a 3-step process to deal with artistic processes...

As a side-note: software development is identified as an artistic processe wince writing code for a new application often involved iterating with customers to learn how to refine the program to adress their needs, as well as decisions on which corners can be cut.

An interesting question in this respect: what do architects bring to the table to deal with processes which should be treated as "artistic"?
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