Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you are

Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you are.

If you aren’t familiar with this statement, they represent the words Felix Baumgartner spoke just before stepping out of a capsule on the edge of space 24.2 miles above earth with nothing but a protective suit and parachute to help him back to Earth. He set numerous world records and caught the imagination of many around the globe.

Baumgartner’s words

Those words also had meaning for me as I thought about process and how we get work done inside organizations. I’ve recently seen numerous discussions and posts focused on understanding exactly “what” process is, and if everything is business process. I personally feel everything is process and think there is a lot that Felix and his team can teach us about process and how we get work done.

His statement about needing to go really high, to me, hits process at the most basic level. I hear Felix addressing something I consistently hear from process owners. They are too mired in the small day-to-day work to realize how their organization really works. They see their tasks, but never realize a process is an assembly of related tasks into a coherent (and hopefully efficient and effective) business process.

The edge of Space

This lack of visibility leaves middle managers and process owners feeling marginalized in their current jobs. They’ve worked hard for many years and made it out of a tactical role, but they aren’t in a leadership role, yet. They continue to work hard, but don’t feel they have the context of how their work fits into the larger organization. They never get that chance to stand on the edge of space, look down, and step off the ledge to experience their organization as a whole.

No doubt that Felix and his team undertook something that astounds the vast majority of us. But, if you read about the ascent to 24.2 miles and watch the video of him opening the capsule door, you’ll learn about the pre-jump checklists they used. For close to three hours, he and his team went through checklists to ensure everything worked properly. Basically, they disassembled this huge undertaking into minute tasks and details. They were able to keep their eye on the larger view while executing the tactical work, and if that isn’t process, I don’t know what else you’d call it.

Step off the ledge

I’d like some input on how we might apply Felix’s experience to that marginalized process owner working away to add every penny he or she can to their organization’s bottom line. How have you seen organizations allow their process warriors to step off the ledge at 129,000 feet?

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Categories: Continuous Improvement, Process Management

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