Is process management just something for control freaks?

Sometimes misunderstandings in conversations seem to be my main learning opportunity. Maybe that’s one benefit of working in a context where I am not a native speaker…  Today I presented Net-Map to my colleagues at AffinityLab and in the discussion afterward I said something about how great this tool would work for managing processes. What I didn’t realize was that a lot of people think of the following, when they hear process management:

A higher level, non-involved entity (for example “the” management) looks at problems from a social engineering perspective and comes up with a set of strict and not very useful rules that everyone else has to follow with the goal of standardizing processes – but often with the effect of increasing bureaucracy and decreasing motivation and problem solving capacity.

Net-Map is not a good tool to do this. And even if it was, I’d say: Don’t! Because, why would anyone want to do that???

So how can you use Net-Map as a process tool? What I was thinking of is this: At the beginning of a longer strategic process (maybe a project implementation, a product development or a organizational change process) you invite those involved and impacted to an initial Net-Map session to develop a baseline map and discuss the following questions:

  • Where do we want to go from here?
  • What do we need to do to get there?

You would discuss both your content goals and what strategic changes in the existing network might help you get there. Are there links that need to be strengthened or abandoned? Do we need to add more partners? What are coalitions, bottlenecks, potential and actual conflicts and what do we do about them? Who can do what to get us to a better future situation?

After that you go back to work and do whatever the purpose of your group or organization is. After some time, you get together again and draw a map of how it looks now: Some of your networking plans of the first round worked out and you see changes just like you predicted. In other areas achievements were more difficult. In the process you might have realized that some of your initial strategies were naive or counter-productive, that you didn’t understand the importance of some actors who became more central to the cause etc. Everyone involved was encouraged to adapt their strategies according to the learning that took place and in can explain in the second round of mapping how we got where we are and what we now need to do to get to the next level. While you compare the network plans with the actual network you have developed, this is not a simple assessment process that would focus on the achievement of pre-defined network goals.

If you start a process like that, you are saying: I trust my partners/employees that they are motivated to do their best and that together we can come up with better solutions than any individual could. But you also say: Let’s check in periodically to see if we are still on track and explore how we can think together and make sure we don’t get lost in networking for the sole purpose of networking.

2 Responses

  1. It is always such a struggle when terms are used in different communities to describe similar, but distinct ideas.

    In my community, the word “Process” often refers to highly structured set of steps where A -> B-> C in a linear manner. I see that what you were referring to was something which in my community might be referred to as the stages of an evolutionary flow where there is more freedom in the possible outcomes than is implied in my community by the word “process”

    Insofar at as your remark about the value of Net-Map over the life cycle of a project or program, in my world we might refer to the Net-Map as an non-traditional indicator for the project.

    Although one might not be able to quantify how the map might change over the life of the project, the human mind is very capable of discerning patterns in an image over time. For example, we can look at a fotograph of a person from infancy to adolescence, young adulthood and beyond and make all kinds of observations about the evolution of the person. Similarly, it would be interesting to see how the map changes over time (and /or whether the recurring use of the map produced qualitative differences between the Net-Mapping projects and non-Net-Mapping projects.


    Michael Lennon

    • Hi Michael,
      I love the example of looking at an aging face. It’s funny how, if you work with a specific section of the research world (very quantitatively minded) such a great range of human ability to generate knowledge is left out of the analysis, just because you cannot quantity it.

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