Saturday, November 7, 2009

Rummler – Brache and Visual Thinking

I am amazed that I missed reading the works on process and performance improvement during the 1980’s and 90’s. During that time I was interested in subjects like Alvin Toffler’s ‘Future Shock’. But I guess the popular phrase at that time is‘re-engineering’ or ‘comparative advantage’ which can be linked to process or performance improvement. I find interesting is the use of visual tools in the methodology. Of course, I was familiar with early visual tools such as flow charting used at that time which eventually evolved into ‘swim lanes’. I think the rise of visual thinking can also be traced to the rise of process improvement concepts led by Rummler andBrache.

But I think their methodology is well known by management specialists during the period as it’s theories are taught in business schools to high level leaders and officers. This was not well known to the public perhaps because the theory was just starting out. Now that visual tools have reached a level of popularity, for example mind mapping or Dan Roam’s visual methods in ‘Back of the Napkin’ have made the process improvement concepts now seem dated. But the process concept has triumphed and well accepted management methodology. It’s no longer the preserve of the business elite but of every knowledge workers such as business analysts and project managers. It has become so prevalent because of the rise of visual thinking tools as well.

Now that both trends are well accepted methods, namely, process improvement and visual thinking, Rummler-Brache has achieved a certain acceptance and near mythical status. Of course, they do not rank high in the ladder with people like Michael Porter or Mike Hammer but more in the modern day consultants, business analyst or project mangers that rely on their tools and techniques in their every day work. I think their work is indispensable in today knowledge culture and information age. It’s a new world out there with baby boomers growing old and so-called echo-boomers coming of age like my kids. I think they need to understand these tools to be successful in the modern work place. It increases understanding and solve problems faster and comprehensively.

I think the immediate skill that I will teach my kids is to be a blogger or at least to learn how to maintain a website. This is a foundation skill in the age of the Internet. I am finishing Richard Reich’s ‘The Future of Success’ and he talks about the lack of time for modern professionals. So a good business is to help the harassed modern person with things like a call center based concierge or butler. The company has a similar life service where we can call and ask about things like the location of the best Chinese restaurant, or the closest book store that carries a book I want to buy and all that, including legal and financial services. All these services are for free as the company is paying for it. Recently I attended a road show about such services and I attended free seminars like ‘Integrating Work and Home Life’, ‘Thinking Positively’ and ‘Treating Mental Illness’.

I guess this is the image of the future. In fact we are living in the future. It is no more the stuff of books or concepts or theories. It’s a world where everyone is adept at visual thinking, creating process and relationship diagrams, creating and maintaining blogs or other web sites, calling life service concierges to get information and assistance, using social networking to keep in touch and having a digital life to get connected and achieve meaning in life. It’s a world that allows everyone to be what ever he wants to be. I feel like I have achieved an epiphany of sorts of the future or the life that I am living right now. It’s a way of life that can only exist perhaps in this country. It’s fitting that I should have these thoughts today being just informed that my permanent resident application has been approved. It’s as if the foundation of modern life has been laid after years of learning and experience and now is the time to live one’s dreams.

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