We’re about to take our second trip to Nepal this year and we’re in the middle of our process for getting ready. It has all the elements of BPM, even without the “B”. Our success on the trip is heavily dependent on how well we manage processes. Here is a breakdown of our tools for success:
While a trekking map may not be the same animal as a process map, it has the same goal…to help us get to our destination. Life doesn’t stop while we make plans to leave. There are work commitments, meals, sleep and many other interruptions that make stopping and starting an unavoidable challenge. In business, our process maps allow us to ‘bookmark’ where we are and know how to pick the task back up again. Thamel is the section of Kathmandu that has the stores that sell the gear for expeditions, but not without risk. The maps are not always accurate, and the down jackets are locally known as “North Fake”. The only way to mitigate risk is to know that what you have is an honest representation and that there is someone accountable for its quality and accuracy. On our trek last year, we had a poor quality map that put a road in the wrong place, on the other side of a 1,000 m. ridge. Try recovering from that kind of mistake when at high altitude. We were fortunate and our guides knew the way (true tribal knowledge!) but the success of the trip was risked on someone’s memory. Sound familiar?
From my Navy flight days, I learned the very high value of having a checklist. Checklists are a form of process even though they don’t have handoffs. From our versioned (governed) master checklist, we’ve created a specialized version for the challenges of climbing to 21,300 feet in the Himalaya…we took out dog treats and added snow goggles and ice axes (plus a few more things). Importantly, if we make changes to the master, we regenerate the specialized checklist to make sure it ‘inherits’ any pearls of wisdom that we’ve gained along the way. We continually improve our checklist by making changes after each trip, which are captured in emails we send when the thought hits us, lest we forget and make the same omission next time.
We depend heavily on transactional systems when we work with airlines, pay our bills before we leave, and use emails to and from other members of the team and our outfitter, Adventure Geo Treks. We didn’t go so far as to map the process, but if we had, the links to the various automation tools would have been embedded within each of our process steps to provide the context for our efforts at the moment of performance. Without these tools, we’d be trying to manage our preparation on paper and perhaps by telephone, which would be very time consuming and error prone.
Our life has its own functional silos, like work, friends, pets and finances. Leaving for three weeks crosses all of these silos and for our trip to be successful, we need to manage the process of getting ready as ‘end-to-end’. Certainly our ‘work silo’ involves getting paid, and that in turn becomes the method for taking care of our ‘household silo’. Considering these silos separately would make ‘personal financial order’ impossible and would likely result in costly mistakes.
We can take a large amount of gear as far as Kathmandu, but once we fly on a small charter plane to the foot of the Himalaya, the limit becomes 45 pounds. We can have large bags on United, but all of our gear must fit in a single duffel to be carried by our porters once we start trekking. Our process involves not just making something happen, but making it happen within boundaries that need to be measured and when exceeded, mitigated. We need to take a pile of gear and find ways to minimize. Duct tape will be wrapped around water bottles so that we have enough without too much, and in the smallest space possible. That water bottle, will in turn be stuffed with a down vest or other compressible item. We’ll take stock of our weight along the way so that we don’t reach the end only to find we’ve missed our target.
By applying good BPM principles, we’ve created our very own APM…Adventure Process Management. So what makes our APM successful? Maps, checklists, automation tools, end-to-end views and good measures.
The parallels to the business world are striking, which only proves the validity of the concepts. Whether hiking in the Himalaya (yes, that is the correct way to say it) or managing critical business processes, the methods we use will decide the outcome.