#BPM and the problem of shallow roots

I live in Pasadena, California, and if you watched the news this past week, my hometown was the epicenter of a fierce windstorm that brought down over 450 of the oldest, largest trees in Southern California. The picture to the left was the scene at daybreak on the morning after the storm. As I write this post, we’ve only had power for a few hours after days in the dark. Many people questioned why so many trees went down in such a confined area when most of the remainder of Los Angeles was hit but far less affected. I was playing lumberjack Thursday morning cutting up the enormous cedar that blocked my driveway and had plenty of time to wonder.

Shallow roots

It all became clear when a Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Bill Patzert was interviewed and explained the following:

“…the other thing that people don’t think about is that the urban forest in Southern California, especially here in the foothills, none of it is natural.  This is all artificially planted, and about half of it is definitely the wrong trees – all these big conifers, big pine trees, and eucalyptus, which are so top heavy and have a bad profile. Such shallow root systems—they’re exactly the wrong kind of trees to plant here. And most of the urban forest is nurtured by lawn sprinklers!  So they have a very shallow root system and when we get a situation like this, it’s like Humpty Dumpty: We definitely fall off the wall.”

BPM parallel

And boy, did we fall off the wall. What Patzert was saying was that our trees were dependent on an artificial source of nourishment. The roots weren’t deep because they didn’t need to be deep. For the past 100 years, Pasadena has been entrusting its shade and property values to the wrong source and then artificially watering it. If we had done the hard work of nurturing the smaller, deep-rooted native trees, I wouldn’t be out shopping for perishables today and resetting all of the clocks in the house. Instead, we opted for fast-growth, shallow-root trees that seemed sufficient and sturdy, but were instead just waiting for the 80 mph gusts of wind of the past week. We took an attractive, easy path without realizing the cost.

For business process management to be deep-rooted and successful, it needs to be located in its natural place…in the business where it can have deep roots in the culture. Add strong governance and you give ownership to processes that allows for change and resiliency in the face of  ‘stormy’ times. The easiest way to weaken processes and thus an organization is to abdicate ownership and to fail to nurture process information. It may look great, just like an enormous irrigated cedar tree, to let IT design complicated process flows with many shapes and colors, but it will never take root in the organization unless complexity is hidden from the owner who needs to understand and manage, and the end-user who needs to consume and provide feedback on business processes. Big returns from automation-led cost cutting is an easy sell for BPM projects, but if you don’t attend to the non-automated and less sexy process management, there is a high cost that isn’t always obvious in ‘good weather’ times.

Silver lining

The silver lining to the cloud that was this event is that I’ve now invented the perfect tool for a power outage in our wireless and always-connected world. Introducing the Charge All 6000 (patent pending). When you think you can find a Starbucks with available wall outlets and free Wifi when there are widespread power outages, you probably will find instead what we saw Thursday: A coffee shop jammed with at least sixty people and snaking extension cords. A quick trip back home, a shopping bag, a power strip and some adapters and you have a portable one-plug Charge All 600. Operators are standing by to take your order…


Categories: Workplace Reality

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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2 Comments on “#BPM and the problem of shallow roots”

  1. Roland Faubert
    December 6, 2011 at 6:02 am #

    “complexity is hidden from the owner who needs to understand and manage, and the end-user who needs to consume and provide feedback on business processes.”
    This is a key value of a BPM implementation that will grow organically as users move from the basic needs that are now in BPM governance to higher level more complex business processes between departments and business partners. Making the complex simple and under an enterprise governance is a key benefit of BPM.


  1. Storms and renewal « Finding the meaning - February 15, 2012

    […] was a horrific windstorm in Pasadena where we live on December 4, 2011. It picked every apple off a backyard tree, tore the […]

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