Questions on AI, Design Thinking, and Continuous Process Improvement Playing Together

By Brian French Posted April 14, 2018 In Digital Business Automation
Questions on AI, Design Thinking, and Continuous Process Improvement Playing Together

Human_Tablet_Robot_561x364In Sandy Kemsley's blog here, she writes about the final keynote at AIIM18, given by Mike Walsh. I'm not going to regurgitate what you can freely read yourself, however it touched on something I have been thinking about off and on for a few years. That is, how AI, Design Thinking, and Continuous Process Improvement will play together. According to Sandy, Mike "pointed out that rigid processes are not good, but that we need to be performance-driven rather than process-driven: making good decisions in ambiguous conditions in order to solve new problems for customers." He also had a bit about AI by saying "... organizations need to become algorithmic businesses: be business machines rather than have business models." Again, I wasn't there. I'm just quoting what Sandy reported so please read her blog for more context.

The fundamental question for me is has business changed so much, and disruption become so prevalent, that having at least a part of your organization be process-driven doesn't make sense anymore? Does Continuous Process Improvement still make a difference? Do we think things move so fast that defining processes is just a waste of time because things change to quickly for the process to matter? This is not a new proposal I'm hearing. I have heard it many times over the years. I think what I'll do in this blog is just ask a bunch of questions that come to mind for me when thinking about this possible paradigm shift, including a bit on Design Thinking. A follow-up blog(s) will provide my thoughts.

First, I will say there is no question processes need to be designed to be flexible. Saying rigid processes are not good is quite obvious.  This is fundamental to being agile and being able to quickly change with market needs. However, that is much more of a process design discussion than an overarching philosophy.

Moving on, let's look at the Data Science/AI question. One of the holy grails of this area in relation to process is the ability to analyze the data and have AI make recommendations about how your process(es) should change, and possibly even make the changes for you. However, if at least some part of your organization isn't process-driven, what are you going to analyze and improve? Of course, process mining has come a long way and maybe it is possible these engines could not only parse data to find existing processes, but then make recommendations as well. However, is this really likely if you don't have a part of your organization who are process experts and focused on improving your processes (whether the improvements be incremental or disruptive)? It seems an organization could achieve Continuous Process Improvement if AI were mature enough to parse processes and determine what the next best path for a process is, but is that maturity there yet?

The other question which keeps coming into my head is around Design Thinking. The question I have is what happens when you are past the innovation stage? What happens when you have to institutionalize and optimize what you have built? Of course, you can weave Design Thinking into many aspects of a company's innovation and operating models, but does it fit everywhere? Or, is it more of an innovation and up-front effort, and then you move into the less glamorous grind of Continuous Process Improvement? Maybe it is a combination of both… Maybe there is a team of people continually experimenting, breaking things, throwing things against the wall; in other words, innovating using Design Thinking? But, at the same time, for innovations which have hit the market and seen some early success, is there another team continually tweaking and improving the operational aspect of the execution to get this innovation to market and make it incrementally better and better over time?

I suspect the answer to these questions will be somewhere in the neighborhood of the hype almost always tilts towards one thing, or overarching category, taking over everything, and the everything which has been taken over becoming nothing, while the reality is the fundamentals of business have not changed much. In fact, it is quite boring to say "well, this thing will change a lot of things, but it will take longer than we think, and the things it is supposed to decimate so drastically will probably be around in some shape or fashion for quite a while." Think of Snail Mail as an enduring example. However, nobody would pay a futurist to come say that at a conference :).

Well, there is my little tease for the weekend. I'll put some "pen to paper" over the next few weeks and attempt to put my spin on these questions. (READ: How Our North Star Methodology Enables Successful Digital Transformation)

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