Understanding the difference between process and practice is the key to moving IT forward. After all, modern business is transforming from mass production in favor of customized services, and IT will have to alter its approach to support this ongoing evolution.
Process consulting, whether Lean, Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints, or Figure It Out 'Cause We're Smart People, is a practice, not a process. Interestingly enough, most of its practitioners don't even understand the distinction, even though understanding the difference between the two is critical to figuring out how work should be performed. Irony, anyone?
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Process, you'll recall from last week's Advice Line, "Why the future of IT rests on one person," is essential when your goal is mass production -- in other words, to efficiently create large quantities of identical products. So long as everyone involved in the process executes each step and handoff correctly, the outcome is success. (Everyone actually includes everything, too, as some steps will be handled by information technology, robots, and other forms of automation.)
Practice, on the other hand, is the emphasis when each work product is tailored and distinct. Creating process designs, for example, falls under the heading of practice. If a process consultant were to follow a process -- that is, perform the exact same steps the exact same way every time -- well, it can't happen because consulting in all its forms involves, at times, asking people questions, noting their answers, and asking new questions based on their answers. The exact same steps, executed the exact same way? It can only happen if the consultant ignores what the respondents are saying.
(No wisecracks, please, and whatever you do, leave "Office Space" out of this. My name is, after all, Bob and I am a consultant.)
When do you need a single-actor practice -- a practice handled by an individual? Before we take that on, let's drill into the concept a bit because the line dividing single-actor practices from other forms isn't hard and bright. It is, in fact, quite fuzzy.