Process mapping - A Hard Tool in a Soft World (Introduction)

Peter Jackson

Organisations & People, Vol.11 No.3, August 2004.


Process mapping is beginning to look old hat. Starting to show its age and its heritage in work study and the early years of process automation, steeped in the rigidity and precision of early computing. In organisations, people is the new process. People are creative, messy, unpredictable and dynamic; people systems are officially 'complex' or 'soft'. So we are faced with the prospect of a whole new reinvention of our toolkit. What on earth do we now use to deal with a complex, soft world?

By coincidence, and in another place, I've spent much of the last week making tea with two sugars for a plasterer working in my kitchen (making tea is not my full time occupation, but an extremely good investment all the same). He mixes the plaster to the consistency he prefers to work with ("slightly stiff", he tells me) slops the plaster onto a board, carefully coats the wall, then with just the right amount of pressure, pushing a tiny bit of moisture out of the plaster, he teases the surface smooth. He is a poet with a float.

This short case study is a tribute to sticking to the basics. It is about how a process model can still provide value as a reference point and guide in dealing with messy, non-linear, soft systems. It's not the tool that counts, it's what you do with it.