Process Lab

Recently I interviewed an American process expert working in a global German company with a very significant presence in the U.S. He and his colleagues have been working for quite some time to integrate the processes on both sides of the Atlantic.

The term used is „harmonisieren“ or „harmonize“, which for many Americans had become the equivalent of a four-letter word. They have made little progress. Folks continue to disagree. When I asked about whether American processes were the result of deductive or inductive thinking, he looked at me as if saying: „What kind of question is that? Are we in an Introductin to Philosophy class at some university?“

Instead he said, he does his best to remain in close contact with his colleagues who make the business go: their world, problems, effects, observing, asking questions, listening carefully. He then reflects, analyzes, suggests, discusses. He only recommends changes to processes, especially to the key ones, if they are based on a solid understanding of how the work is done, on reality, after having been „on the ground“ with the people who use the processes.

Abstraction as a requirement for understanding

He collaborates very closely with the people whose work he is analyzing. Process experts, he says, have to understand the business, the people involved, and the workflow before they can engage in a discussion about whether a process can and should be modified.

As an American I understand this. But, I think, is it not essential to then separate yourself from that which you have observed and studied, in order to truly understand it? Isn‘t abstraction a requirement for understanding?

Could it be that the German process experts often forget to inform their American colleagues that they, too, get into the details of the processes they review? Are they misperceived by the American side as being too abstract, of not „getting their hands dirty“, not digging into the details?

Tension between depth and distance 

I suspect that the German colleagues present the results of their process analysis „right out of their process laboratory“, where they get abstract, but after having studied the details. Perhaps they do not get into the details as much as their American counterparts, who embed themselves in the processes.

Germans are reluctant to embed themselves based on a fear that they will lose perspective, lose Überblick (overview), not be able to recognize patterns. In their process lab they have the peace and quiet to reflect on, to understand what they have observed and studied.

The big stick

Making acceptance of German processes in the U.S. even more difficult is the impression many Americans have that their German colleagues do not understand the U.S. market. They see in many German processes a threat to their business: „Their processes won‘t work here. They‘ll ruin our business.“

It‘s the big stick which many Americans use to beat back the importation of German processes, or even the partial integration of American and German processes. In some situations, where the American organization had been an independent company bought by a German one, one can hear Americans say: „You don‘t know our customers, how we work, what it takes to be successful here. You failed in the U.S., that‘s why you bought us. So please, no processes from Germany, at least not without first discussing with us how to modify them so that they help more than harm.“

Process Lab