Process or procedure, systematic or ad-hoc, structured or framework, pipeline or riverbed?
Ad-hoc, now that is no process or what...
On one side you have the processes Thomas describes as the "process broccoli" - no nonsense, precise, repetitive. The stuff that builds the iPods and BMWs of this world. The pipelines.
Then we have the rest. Yep, the rest. Everything is a process, "a series of steps", a sequence. Even if the "particular end" to be achieved is iffy.
If we meet over a beer and engage in a conversation it is a sequence. Talk, listen, talk, listen... a procedure we adhere to so the flow flows and we're not seen as impolite. A culture based riverbed.
The farmer has some rough lines of what he has to do, then he must adjust according to the weather. He's operating by the riverbed principle. An experience based riverbed.
Then the receptionist - "what could I help you with?" would usually be his starting point before choosing next step down a wide procedural tree with many branches. Organisational hierarchy based riverbed.
Ditto for the day trader, the MD, the rest of us. Rough framework to the sequences, lots of choices underway. Culture, experience and hierarchies as riverbeds.
So far so good, we all know this and we can live with it. Except we also know that to base business and efficient use of resources (including our own time) on culture, experience and hierarchies as the suppliers of process structure is far from perfect. The methods are fraught with issues and hopelessly rigid. They're really bad at it in fact. Really, really bad.
First stab to solve the issue was by real hard technology like assembly lines. But the technology was limited to very strict processes. Like building cars. Real pipelines.
Next out was the softer kind of technology, IT. But software is only a model, and as long as it models the world as it is (pipeliney or iffy) it merely ends up as another pipeline or nothing at all. Assembly line thinking applied to a few other processes in the first instance.
That worked well for the pipeliney processes, even beyond the real nuts and bolts assembly lines. Still, most of what we're doing, even at work, does not fit that model.
Because a pipeline cannot act as a riverbed.
(A note: But a riverbed can act as a pipeline, just narrow it down and add some barriers and checkpoints and it behaves like a pipeline!)
The big suppliers of pipeliney systems (names politely withheld) cheekily calls the result of this phenomena their "white-spaces", then selling that as a positive opportunity for partners... :)
Not happy, the users implemented wikis and other collaboration tools and developers stretched the webby stuff to Web/Office 2.0 prominence so as to relieve some of the white-space pressure.
Now, any riverbeds there? Nah, but plenty of pools.
Like covering "white-spaces" with "white sheets".
Did I mention that we're tinkering with the issue? Something riverbed'ish... ;)