25 September 2009

Everything is...

I keep coming across the phrase "everything is a process."

Um, I don't think that's quite true.

Rocks are not processes (although they can be described as the product of a process). For that matter, I don't think any nouns are processes. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that only a verb has the potential to be described as a process. This means an outcome is not a process. Hold that thought...

While we're talking about words, let's consider semantics. It might be true to say "everything you do can be represented as a process." That's a bit different than "everything IS a process," wouldn't you agree? I suspect that's what people mean when they say "everything is." But why say everything when you mean every activity? And why say is when you mean can be represented as? Those concepts are quite different.

More to the point, even if everything we do can be represented as a process, that doesn't mean everything should. Some activities are best performed with an intuitive, craftsman-like touch. Not because it's easier, but because the end product is better. As my favorite poet ee cummings pointed out:

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

Process, it seems to me, is all about "the syntax of things." It's not about the outcome. Process may be about kissing, but it's not about The Kiss.

Another observation: some activities are not repeated / repeatable. Some projects are unique, some activities are unique. But repeatable or not, it's important to consider the amount of time, money, effort, etc that goes in to developing, documenting and validating a process. Sometimes, it's just not worth the expense. For example, do we really need to document a process if we're only going to do it once? What's the point of documenting a process if the people doing the activity are already effective and efficient? It's a calculation we should consider.

Sure, if you've got a large number of people doing well-bounded, well-defined, repeatable tasks, in which variations are undesirable and the environment is generally predictable, by all means, document your process and do it that way. But not everything is in that category.

Is everything a process? I'll take "Answers That Begin With No" for 500, Alex. Can everything be represented as a process? Sure. Are there some activities that should not get the process treatment? You bet...

1 comment:

Dick Field said...

Waxing semantically a bit further, the application of a term like "process" should be considered in light of semantic underpinnings, all right. Is the term being used in its pure, descriptive sense? If so, it can be readily applied to the description of activities and events without fear. --OR, is it being used in adulterated form (or, as we erstwhile linguists would say, "corrupted"). If so, its application may be closer to a desired or chosen state of being, completely detached from results. In fact, in the most un-FISTy world, "process" may displace and become "result"! The "means" have then justified, and become, the "end"!