The BPX as Observer
There are a variety of steps that are necessary to improve a particular process. Initially, the BPX must analyze the process – try and understand how it works. Without this knowledge (which can be acquired via discussions with process participants, analysis of the IT systems involved in the current process implementation, etc.), the BPX will have difficulty improving it. There are various methodologies (See the BPM Methodology for one possibility) to achieve such tasks.
Irregardless of the number of steps or their individual characteristics, the BPX is usually initially placed in the role of the observer. The BPX comes from outside of the actual process in question – independent of the organizational underpinnings often linked to the process involved. Indeed, the BPX role is often described as negotiating between IT and Business based on the fact that such external experts are seen as having an objective perspective regarding the process. The BPX can speak both “languages” and is seen as someone who shouldn’t take sides – almost as if the BPX is siding with the process itself rather than those who use it or must implement it.
In this blog, I’d like to ask the question: is this fundamental assumption correct? Is the BPX really an objective observer?
The Observer in Modern Physics
Recently, I’ve been reading a number of scientific thrillers that involve science and famous “scientific” personalities -Newton, etc (For example, Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott . Reading these novels has exposed me to a number of scientific theories including those of quantum physics. One of the most interesting theories in quantum physics questions the idea of the objective observer.
The following quote from a NASA page on mathematical thinking describes this problem in physics and why this problem is critical in scientific experiments.
The ideal observer is one who causes no unnecessary perturbations to the system being observed. An observation made by such an observer is called an objective observation. In our school physics and chemistry, we routinely assume that our observations are objective.
But reality seldom, if ever, provides us with ideals. The real observer always causes an unnecessary perturbation of some kind. Scientists must remain alert in their efforts to minimize the magnitudes of these perturbations. The extent to which they succeed determines the level of confidence they can claim in their results and, therefore, the certainty they can expect in their knowledge of things.
In the 20th century, physics was forced into the position of re-evaluating the role of the observer, both in relativity and in quantum mechanics. In relativity, the absolutes of Newtonian physics were banished, and observations obtained by observers in different frames of reference became all that was available. These observations were linked through a system of coordinate transformations.
In quantum mechanics, the observer and the system being observed became mysteriously linked so that the results of any observation seemed to be determined in part by actual choices made by the observer. This situation is represented by the wave function, a function in the complex domain that contains information about both the cosmos at large and the observer’s apparent state of knowledge.
The BPX as Scientist?
This description of the observer role in modern physics usually refers to some sort of scientist who is examining something. Let’s make a quick comparison between the roles of BPX and scientist to see if it adds any insights to our discussion of objectivity as it relates to the BPX.
Individuals involved in a particular process act out their individual steps in a particular order. This structure may be inefficient but it exists. Information and status information pass between the various tasks. This process exists without the involvement of the BPX. Thus, at first glance, the BPX has no direct participation in the object being observed – this relationship is very similar to that of a scientist conducting an experiment.
However, as we look more closely at the two “professions”, it is obvious that the objects being observed aren’t the same – indeed, they have very different characteristics. A process is not the usual physical / natural phenomenon that a scientist examines. A process is something artificial created by man. Thus, this fundamental difference leads to the BPX viewing the process being observed as something that can / must be changed. A scientist examining / measuring the gravitational field of a black hole knows that he/she cannot change the phenomenon in question.
The scientist goes through the following steps when looking at a problem:
observes → understands → describes
The BPX goes through the following steps
observes → understands → describes → improves
Thus, this fundamental difference shows that a BPX isn’t a scientist – the relationship of the observer to the object being observed is quite distinct. Even the fact that the BPX works based on a methodology doesn’t imply that the process improvement task is a science. An understanding of this difference leads to a realization that the rules that apply to the role of BPX are different than that of the scientist.
Neutrality vs. Objectivity
A comparison between the definitions of neutrality and objectivity will help further clarify the matter.
- Objectivity: judgment based on observable phenomena and uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices
- Neutrality: the absence of declared bias. In an argument, a neutral person will not choose a side.
A BPX is often described as someone who negotiates between parties in an organization. For a negotiator to be successful, he / she must be seen as being neutral. This neutrality is often assumed to be based on objectivity but this is a fallacy. A BPX may be neutral but the BPX is not objective. An individual can influence whether he/she is neutral but an individual can not influence their objectivity concerning any particular subject. Indeed, the discoveries of quantum physics question the possibility of pure objectivity at all.
As the quote above describes “In quantum mechanics, the observer and the system being observed became mysteriously linked so that the results of any observation seemed to be determined in part by actual choices made by the observer.” In our terms, the results refer to BPX’s analysis / suggestions. If objectivity isn’t possible in science, can it be possible in the world of process improvement?
A BPX – like any individual – is product of his/her own past experiences, history and upbringing, etc. This “baggage” influences how the BPX responds to his/her project environment. A BPX may try to be objective but this is an attempt that is destined to fail.
That fact that BPX isn’t objective isn’t something disagreeable. The important factor is that the BPX doesn’t assume that he/she is objective and 2) others involved in the project aren’t given the impression that the BPX is objective. This realization shows the importance of “people skills” for the BPX to be successful in their projects.