Defining Process Science

My name is Sam, and I’m the first process scientist.

Before I was a process scientist I was a process improvement expert, which basically means that I was well-versed in traditional business analysis techniques and methods largely established decades ago by efficiency pioneers at Toyota, Motorolla, and GE.

These methodologies, known as Lean and Six Sigma, added a quantitative dimension and mathematical rigor to business process analysis. The measurable aspect of this work led to significantly better business results within the diverse manufacturing environments of their origin, where the pressure to reduce costs sparked the creation of this new type of professional knowledge.

How Did I Get Here?

When I started my process career over ten years ago, studying Lean and Six Sigma, I wanted to understand how to absorb and apply the foundational logic that made these improvement techniques so successful within the context of manufacturing. During my early career, I clumsily applied these tried and true frameworks as best I could to my own clients, who were largely operating in digital service markets.

Even though clients were clamoring for master black belts and certified lean practitioners to reduce their cost and get control over their processes, the conventional disciplines were not resonating with project sponsors in the field and were yielding inconsistent, mediocre results at best. The logic extracted from examining physical processes had to be retrofitted into environments where the process was done behind computer screens. In these business environments, humans can no longer observe the value being created with their own eyes and ears.

Despite my best efforts, the language, tools, and measures borrowed from manufacturing were not working within technology startups, insurance, banking, media, or legal firms that struggled with a rapidly evolving market and increasing pressure to reduce process cost – I had to find a better way to prove that process improvement could be relevant in these markets. So, I started to study the process logic within my own experience as an academic pursuit.

I studied process in the context of biological systems, blending it with my academic background in the natural sciences. I studied process in the context of the human experience, blending it with my personal pursuit of deeper understanding through psychology and spirituality. These lines of intellectual inquiry began to hone my process logic into a form entirely different from where I had started out. What I was creating slowly iterated itself away from established Lean and Six Sigma methods as the years went on.

By this point, “process improvement” as a skill had become so muddied and ambiguous, it no longer explained the work I was doing. Even though I was achieving consistently better process improvement results, I struggled to define what I was practicing. I spent many years trying to articulate what was quickly becoming a new set of methods and frameworks.

When I finally had a cohesive way to describe all that I was doing, “process science” was born – a synthesized and evolved form of process analysis logic that no longer had much resemblance to historical manufacturing methodologies.

What Is Process Science?

Process science is the study of how energy flows through the universe. Applied process science helps us to improve energy flow through processes (personal or professional), resulting in a higher rate of energy to value transformation. Within the consulting context, I’ve been using process science to help businesses consistently and profitably automate, scale, and grow in fast-moving, digitized markets.

Without being able to see digitized and system-enabled processes (especially those that produce intangible services, such as legal advice), the first obstacle to process improvement was not being able to even define what “process” is. Without being able to point to the machines and workers and say “that’s your process, turning raw wood into furniture,” clients didn’t even know what they were asking to improve. It took me many years to make process language relatable to clients that worked with both physical and non-physical elements.

For example, it is unlikely that you could walk into a law firm and say “there it is, look at the process at work!” This brought my attention to the semantics of process, which had to shift away from physical inputs and outputs to be universally understood. As a result, I began defining process as the mechanism that transforms energy into value.

From this definition, everything in motion is qualified as a process and is no longer described as a mechanical set of inputs being turned into a similarly mechanical set of outputs through some mechanical transformation process. When you get up to a detail level that is universally applicable to all processes, energy of all kinds (heat, mechanical, kinetic, etc.) is the input, or agent, that activates a process and allows transformation to happen in some way within our physical environment.

It was at this level of insight that I began to be able to articulate process science.

If everything that receives energy for the purpose of creating value is a process, then it follows that to understand what makes a good process versus a bad one became a study of which processes tend to draw the most energy to them. Over time, energy in all forms flows away from processes that do not result in value creation at a high enough rate, thus eventually removing those processes from existence.

This forms the foundation of process science: if the process exists for study, value is being created in some form. It is the work of a process scientist to not question whether a process is working or not, but rather, to observe and derive the value-creating elements from a process by understanding the energy flowing through it.

From here, my journey as a process scientist has been one of studying energy flow. I seek answers to why energy flows through certain process configurations over others, why processes evolve in similar ways when energy density reaches a certain critical mass within them, and of course, what are the obstacles (i.e. wastes) that prevent energy flow through processes that could be removed to increase value creation.

Process science could be seen as the evolution of process improvement, a way to look at processes based on the objective characteristics of transforming energy into value. In my work with businesses, I assess the flow of energy through them and use my knowledge of process design that enables better flow to help them fundamentally restructure for better business outcomes.

Studying process at this level has lifted the boundaries between business and personal process study. Energy flow powers all things in our lives, and understanding how and why certain processes work better than others is not limited to the business context. At Cavi, we can see the energy flowing through all things (from cooking, to doing laundry, to planning a vacation) and can provide insight as to where there may be issues with flow. Once you understand energy flow, you understand how to facilitate more of it and receive the many benefits that it implies.

My path of discovery has led me to write my first set of cohesive thoughts on process science in my upcoming book Becoming a Conscious Business (available on June 19, 2018). In the book, I outline the thinking that leads me to believe I am the first applied process scientist who exclusively improves life outcomes through the study of universal energy flow patterns.

Can you refute this aggressive claim? If you are doing what I am calling process science, I hope this blog finds you. Please comment here or write to me; I would love to discuss my thoughts with someone else who has progressed traditional process improvement to what I believe is its next iteration.  

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