When I worked at Accenture, we were often in the business of identifying the existing business processes and then analysing how we would enable these processes with technology. Sometimes it was putting a mobile phone purchase process onto Siebel CRM, sometimes it was putting insurance sales onto SAP ERP.
A senior partner used to say to me “we are not here to just pave the cow path”.
Don’t Pave the Cow Path
The cow path was the old way of doing things. Sometimes the old way was not a good way. Sometimes the old way was a terrible way.
The Green Book and the Blue Book
My father tells a story of when he was first working as a consultant back in the early 1970’s in a hospital in south west Ireland.
On his first day, he was required to sign in to enter the building. Strangely, he was asked to do this in a blue book, and also in a green book. He asked the girl behind the desk “why the two books?”.
She responded “there have always been two books.”
After a week of this double sign in, my father began to have a curiosity as to why these 2 books were both needed. He would ask managers, he would ask doctors, he would ask others who had worked there for years. Always, the same answer “there have always been two books”.
After months of work my father was coming to the end of his project at the hospital. As part of the final phase of the project, he was to meet with a retired doctor who had been around since the very beginning of the hospital.
At the end of the meeting with this eminent doctor, my father again asked his question “why the two books?”
The doctor laughed and said “Back in the war years, there was rationing of petrol. A lot of our staff were unable to easily get to and from work. The hospital bought bicycles for staff to use to get home quickly. The blue book is for signing bicycles in and out, the green book was the original attendance book. Somewhere along the way, the bicycles were no longer necessary and were sold… but we never were able to get rid of the blue book”.
I have seen so many blue book processes in companies. It is much, much harder to stop something that we are already doing than it is to start a new thing.
In each of our lives there are also many blue book processes. They may have served us well several years ago, but are just busy activity now. They are processes that do not serve.
In productivity, removing the blue book processes is more important than adding efficiency to the green book processes. Removing busy-ness. Stopping using the old cow path when we now have a six lane motorway.