By now much of the world (well the bits that watch CNN at least) have heard how five major oil companies in the U.S.A. had identical process for dealing with major oil spills on their deep ocean drilling platforms.

In mid-June 2010, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee reviewed piles of documents from the oil companies. Of particular interest were the plans for dealing with oil spills in the Gulf. This was response to the catastrophic sinking of BP's deep ocean drilling platform and subsequent uncontrollable gushing of millions of barrels of raw crude into the Gulf of Mexico.

To the shocked amazement of everyone all five companies had identical disaster management process. From identical covers to identical wording inside. Including identical mistakes.

Talk about embarrassing.

These are seriously competitive companies and yet they have the exact same process? That should be enough to get the conspiracy theory people going.

I don't know where they got these identical disaster plans. It seems likely, however, that they all bought them from the same company offering a packaged process.

This is one sad example of Box-of-Process thinking.

Big Box-of-Process

Box-of-Process thinking occurs when a business buys a packaged process for some aspect of their business operations or administration. In doing so they think they have solved a problem. It might be for employee recruiting, marketing, office administration, operational aspects, or oil spill disaster management.

The oil companies were guilty of looking for a quick, inexpensive solution. The problem they were addressing was satisfying a requirement for having an oil spill disaster management plan. But having a process is not really a solution.

I see this with small business as well. Often owners are looking for a packaged process they can use to run their own business. Sometimes they do this because they don't really know how to do certain aspects of their business. This is common for first time business owners. So they look for a packaged process to tell them what to do.

The problem with this approach is that it usually doesn't work for a variety of reasons.


A Box-of-Process is very generalized. It has to be in order to be applicable to many companies. But, how can the author of the process know how you run your business? They can't know. They imagine a typical or average business of your type and create generalized descriptions of what to do. They might base it on some real-world experience but it still gets generalized.

Process Is Not A System

A process is a sequence of generalized tasks. Process tells you what to do and in what order. It does not tell how to do it.

A system is a specific implementation of a process. A system consists of the tools and resources and people and specific ways doing things to complete the tasks in the process.

Process is potential. A system is that potential realized.


This type of process is not really "owned". Since your people did not create the process they don't really know it. It's not their way of doing things, it is a pile of paper sitting on a shelf.

False Accomplishment

Buying a Box-of-Process offers a false perception of accomplishment. After all, you got that process. Check another item off the to-do list. But the only thing that was accomplished was the acquisition of some paper with some ideas. This leads to the next issue.

No Follow Through

Companies often do not follow through and implement the process they acquire. It just sits there on a shelf, forgotten. Until the tools and the resources and the people are put in place to implement that process it just words on paper.

No Innovation

Systems need to change as your business changes. Systems also need to change to grow your business. By constantly improving your systems your business becomes more profitable, provides a better customer experience, becomes a better place for your employees. When you create your own systems you own them. Your people are in the trenches working the systems. They know what to do to improve them.

A Box-of-Process is stagnant. It does not change. Unless the author of the process revises it. In which case you end up with imposed change. Something you may not want to deal with or care about.

Process Does Not A System Make

Don't be fooled into taking a short cut and buying a Box-of-Process to run your business. Create and evolve systems specific to your business, your culture, and your environment. Only you and your employees know how your business operates. Create your own "This is how we do it here".


Source by Lyle Parkyn


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