Process cycle management everywhere

What do all contemporary cyclical process management theories have in common? OK, so I better define what cyclical process management theories are: all those management theories that have a lifecycle, like business process management, project management, software or systems development (and all the ones I can’t think of right now).

Oh, and the answer to the nerd riddle is: Francis Bacon, Walter Shewhart, and William Denning.

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A short history of process management and quality control

A backgrounder illuminating modern management techniques, including agile methods, business process management, continuous improvement cycles, and other methods employing iterative development sequences.

Peter Strempel on the history of process management

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Six Sigma mutant ninja turtles?

The first time I came across a mature adult calling himself a six sigma black belt I was left feeling slightly bemused, and compelled to ask: ‘Does that mean you’re the sixth mutant ninja turtle?’

You might imagine that the black belter was not at all amused. And yet he found it difficult to articulate what he meant by the terminology.

So here’s a little overview of the concepts that underlie the somewhat juvenile nomenclature.

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Managing fear of change


Change management is a big field, and it sounds scary because it says ‘management’, which is what managers do, right?

The reality is that if only managers manage change, that change will always fall short, or fail entirely.

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Teamwork CPR


There’s a lot of nonsense talked about teamwork and building effective teams, as if you can do this in the same way as colouring in by the numbers. If you watch artists at work, there’s no magic formula. They have to look and judge constantly to get the colours and shades just the way they want them, and they have to constantly learn from what doesn’t work to create new skills and techniques.

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Innovation without delusions

Paul Klee: Ancient Sound.
Paul Klee (1879-1940): Ancient Sound, 1925. Klee was a musician whose creativity led him to ‘see’ sound. A kind of thinking often missing from innovation efforts.

If I told you that contemporary ideas about innovation and disruption were driven mostly by ideology, ignorance, and marketing hype, would that seem controversial or extreme?

If my proposition were true, though, would it change the way you think about innovation?

It changed for me. I came to my conclusions over the Christmas-New year break, when my reading list contained an unusually dense stack of essays and articles about innovation. The common features were about undefined buzzwords, and formulaic models that avoided coming to grips with innovation, often missing even of a workable definition.

So let’s start there.

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Dehumanising BPM: a strategic mistake


Business process management (BPM) is looked on by many organisations as the most effective way to gain control of bloated legacy processes, to realise dollar efficiencies, and as a way to innovate and even disrupt.

This can all be true. But like most other efficiency efforts it can and does frequently fail before it begins, through bad planning. Planning should be recognised as a creative, intellectual exercise. If it is only technique and method, even stellar performance in business analysis, project management, and execution can be an uphill battle.

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Ontological closure


Online discussion is today what the original neckbeards made it centuries ago. If neckbeard can be accepted as a derisory term for a youngish man who is socially awkward, physically unappealing-to-repulsive (because of hygiene habits more than physique), and personally obsessed with nerdery emanating from computing and escapist cultural fads, then the progenitor of that species must surely be a monk of the Dark Ages. Obsessed with scholastic but pointless logical debates about smartarse new ways to win the argument that god exists, must exist, and is better than your own shitty conception of a deity. A scholasticism that encapsulates almost all online arguments, because these are overwhelmingly not about discovering something new, rather than establishing the ‘correctness’ of each neckbeard participant.

That thought, coming at the end of a train of thought described below, offers me a deliciously funny imagined visualisation of half-pissed, fat, unwashed, and unruly monks burbling bullshit over rough wooden refectory tables laden with more wine than food. Something from a Monty Python sketch.

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Epistemic Vigilance

Critical thinking and analysis


Looking for evidence of metathinking about critical thinking and analysis (CTA) is heartbreaking. Once you move out of a stream of bureaucratic fetish literature obsessed with definitions and re-definitions that have failed to advance the cause of CTA in schools and universities, there’s a real dearth of serious consideration of how it works, whether it works at all, and whether it can be taught or assessed.

That search is integral to a longer narrative essay I’m working on to look at the failure of CTA in the academy and in the public sphere. So coming across material that seemed to be a sidetrack, but turned out to be the mainline, was a real eye-opener.

There’s a paper on ‘Epistemic Vigilance’ by an improbably diverse range of scholars affiliated with the Central European University, examining the ‘suite of cognitive mechanisms’ involved in exercising vigilance about the veracity of information we receive. This begins with an evaluation of whether the effort of seeking validation of some piece of information is worth the expected value to the subject.

Of particular significance to the topics of teaching and assessing CTA, and its social practice more widely, is a small departure in the paper into the purely philosophical consideration of epistemology, and specifically the consideration whether ‘testimony’ can be accepted as ‘knowledge’ in itself, or whether it requires independent validation by other sources. In this regard we can probably get away with thinking of testimony to include a range of verbal and non-verbal communication, like news reports, articles, and, especially, online discourses.

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When intelligent people turn out to be really stupid: Chapter 65,535 – Six Sigma and critical thinking

Knowing better, but actually being struck across the forehead with evidence of astonishing stupidity in academic and business practices is probably more painful than that initial moment of clarity when the futility of determinist reductionism first comes into sharp focus.


The latter occurred for me decades ago, and echoes the late Christopher Hitchens’ ruminations on people who have power:

… I began to discern one of the elements of an education: get as near to the supposed masters and commanders as you can and see what stuff they are really made of. As I watched famous scholars and professors flounder here and there, I also, in my career as a speaker at the Oxford Union, had a chance to meet senior ministers and parliamentarians “up close” and dine with them before as well as drink with them afterward, and be amazed once again at how ignorant and sometimes plain stupid were the people who claimed to run the country.

— Christopher Hitchens (2010). Hitch 22: A Memoir. New York: Twelve/Hachette Book Group, p 98.

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