The world of Information Technology orbits around the concept of repeatable process. We program computers to process data. Programming is the act of decomposing the world into a series of repeatable, logical steps. And the software that is produced from this act invariably then expects the world in which it operates to be one where there are processes, or workflows, or some other sort of repeated pattern.

And that’s great, because the world of work also to a great extent orbits around the concept of repeatable process. From Adam Smith onwards, specialisation and repeatability have been mantras for the industrialised organisation. We seek out optimal ways to perform tasks, and then ways in which those optimised processes can be scaled. It works well for manufacturing widgets. For interactions between people… well, the jury is out. Whilst organisations believe that they are operating to fixed processes, the industrial action known as “work to rule” is still remarkably effective at showing how many fudges and kludge are necessary for those processes to actually work.

But every so often I come across organisations, or functions within organisations, for whom the concept of repeatable process isn’t just an anathema, but is actually regarded as a significant threat. There are parts of academia where this is the case. It’s definitely the case in the “creative” areas of media and marketing agencies. It also appears to be the case in the world of public policy work – policy workers whose job is to produce public policy. None the wiser? I’m not sure I am at the moment either.

Trying to introduce new information technology with such groups is that the language and metaphors of IT resonate with them extremely badly. It’s like the soprano who is able to break a wine glass with her voice type of resonance. But to understand how a team might take advantage of new technologies, you need to help them explore the relationships that they have with information, systems and other people.

You could do this through a user journey-type approach, but I’ve found recently that that just looks too much like a process. Linear is the issue here.

So what to do?

I’m experimenting with a metaphor drawn from a common trope in procedural dramas – the crime board. If you’ve ever watch a cop show you will probably have seen one – the whiteboard in the office on which various bits of evidence, maps, photos and other bits and bobs are placed and then linked together with ink or string. You know – this kind of thing:

What things are created? Where are they created? Who creates them? Who else contributes? What other resources are required to create them? What value do they have after the event?

Actually what I’ve described is remarkably like the Rich Pictures that Peter Checkland described as a part of soft systems methodology. But a crime fighting metaphor sounds so much more fun.

Anyway, experiments with crime boards start next week. Artefact Cards may be involved.

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