People vs processes – a false dichotomy?

Pascal Van Cauwenberghe writes about People problem or Process problem? – he identifies a conflict between all problems are people problems (one of Jerry Weinberg’s statements) and all problems are process problems (according to The Toyota Way). Using an evaporating cloud he concludes that every problem is a people problem AND a process problem.I have written about process before and I’d like to take it a step further: I doubt whether is the distinction between people and process is useful – I find it a false dichotomy.

I realised that people often use the word process when they actually mean procedure. Procedures are useful, but can only capture a small part of organizational knowledge. Processes concern not only explicit knowledge, but also tacit knowledge, e.g. people’s experience and judgement. You cannot code the latter in procedures, you ‘code’ it in the people, through experience, training, coaching, building the right culture…in other words, by creating a context for people to learn and grow so that the right processes will emerge.

The Toyota Way principle of standardized work for example is not just about coding the standardized work in procedures. Only part of it consists of explicitly documenting the standardized way. An important part of the work is standardized through extensive training until people have learned the standardized way by heart.

Processes (by which I mean the things and actions that actually happen in a system) are the manifestation of what the people involved have learned – of both their explicit and tacit knowledge. People and processes are two sides of the same coin. The way to improve your processes is to improve your people.

Talking about explicit and tacit knowledge, I remembered that the book The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation by Nonaka and Takeuchi has been sitting unread on my bookshelf for the last few years…time to pick it up and read it…

I appreciate Willem van den Ende for helping me to articulate my intuition about people vs. processes.