Planes, trains and business process

Union StationHow often do we really think through what we do and why? I’m comfortably sitting on the Pacific Surfliner, the Amtrak train between Los Angeles and San Diego, wondering why I ever drive or fly. My laptop is plugged in and charging as I work, my wifi device is sending a strong signal. I’m traveling point-to-point with no traffic on either side and there’s no dealing with megalomaniac flight attendants. I don’t have my seat belt securely fastened and I’m free to use the bathroom when I choose. Any bathroom I choose.

So why do I fly? Because the train may be comfortable, but flying is just much quicker, or so it seems.

Illusion of speed

When we don’t stop to think about it much, we can easily justify what seems expedient, like flying to a nearby city when the train is a much better, cheaper and more productive option. We do the same with business process. Slowing down to think through the best way to create and follow process seems much less exciting than just ‘winging it’ (pun intended).

Gritty underside

Gritty underside of Los AngelesOr maybe we just want to skip the gritty underside of doing things the best way. When you leave Union Station in Los Angeles, you immediately get to see the ugly side of a city…the back alleys and the junk yards. The same happens with business process…when you first tear down what is really being done, it is a messy and potentially political challenge that needs to be faced. Wouldn’t it simply be easier to ‘fly over’ the details of who does what, how work gets handed off and how much it really costs to get things done?

I would suggest that most business process efforts fail to get started or never reach their goals simply because the work involved is unglamorous and just hard. While my coach seat is very comfortable, everything beyond where I’m sitting is diesel, oil, gravel and steel. The components of travel by train are industrial and a lot less sexy than the 787 Dreamliner.

Huddled masses

And maybe there’s something else about business process and trains that makes us want to fly instead. When I fly, I go through a special security line and sometimes don’t even remove my shoes. I go to the United Club before the flight and I often get upgraded to First Class. I am above the details of long lines, noisy gates, and being packed in like sardines. I’m above the fray. Looking around my train, I’m amongst the average people for whom air travel may not be an option. The masses can’t afford to be above it all. Likewise, great business process people come from the rank and file, not from the country club community. They grind it out in unglamorous work because that’s the only way to create real value and save real dollars.

Reaching the beach

Pacific SurflinerAn hour and a half after pulling out of Union Station, we reach the coast where the Pacific Surfliner earns its name. We’ve left behind Fullerton and Anaheim and are now in the beach cities like San Clemente and Encinitas. Life is good here and the gritty parts are a vague memory. Great business process has the same effect. Stay on the train long enough and the going gets more scenic and worthwhile.

We face the business process choice of train or airplane all of the time. Which one do you choose?

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Categories: Process Management

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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3 Comments on “Planes, trains and business process”

  1. December 10, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    Great analogy! Only way to streamline business processes, or add new channels, is to get through the nitty gritty first.

    • December 10, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

      Unfortunately, this is the part that gets glossed over, or passed down the organization food chain.

  2. December 10, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    Chris, really timely post. You’ve convinced me to try the train from San Diego to OC this week.

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