Transforming People, Process, and Technology

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Transforming People, Process, and Technology

We often hear management consultants reference the phrase, “People, Process, Technology” as a way of explaining the critical success factors for organizational change. In an era of automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, does this model still apply?

A Brief History of People, Process, and Technology

The phrase “People, Process, and Technology” originates from Harold Leavitt’s 1964 paper “Applied Organization Change in Industry”. In it, he posits a four-part “Diamond” model for creating change in an organization:

HJ Leavitt Diamond Process

  • Structure: How a group of people is organized
  • Tasks: What a group of people do
  • People: Who the people are
  • Technology: What the people do work with

Since the publication of that paper, managers have consolidated structure and tasks down to Process, to what people do.

The People, Process, and Technology model is timeless because of its simplicity, but one of its quirks is that it tells you only what the entities are, not what they do or how they interact.

How People, Process, and Technology Interact

How do these entities, appearing discrete in Leavitt’s model, work with each other, and how do we make use of it?

People by themselves have to do work. How they do their work and what they do their work with is the key question; even in the age of artificial intelligence, people are still mandatory for governing the output of machines (for now).

Process helps people do better work. Process defines and standardizes work, preventing people from reinventing the wheel every time they begin working.

Technology helps people do faster, more innovative work – especially in the age of artificial intelligence. We hand off rote, mechanical tasks to machines, from brewing coffee to transcribing speech in order to free up our time for more creative, cognitive endeavors.

In short, when we think about any kind of work, from strategy to marketing to manufacturing, we want three fundamental outcomes:

  • Faster
  • More Efficient
  • Better

Many of us recognize the business joke, “Fast, cheap, good: choose any two”. Prior to the era of highly accessible technology, that was true. Today, thanks to machine learning and AI, it’s possible to achieve all three. Because machines (properly designed and run) are faster than people, scale better than people, and once deployed tend to be cheaper than people, we can achieve fast, cheap, and good. The largest technology companies in the world stay that way precisely because they’ve achieved these machine-led economies of scale.

Creating Change, Improving Outcomes

When we consider the interactions of people, process, and technology, how do these entities create change, improve outcomes?

the people process technology interaction model

When people interact with process, we scale. No more reinventing the wheel. Instead, with process, we accelerate growth. One person, armed with great processes, could be as impactful as ten people in a less process-driven organization. Consider how fast food companies have standardized processes in order to franchise. Going to a McDonald’s restaurant in Seoul is more or less the same experience as going to a McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow or Peoria.

When people interact with technology, we innovate. We create new ways of doing familiar things at first, and then we open our minds to new ways of doing new things. Consider the Web. In the first decade of the World Wide Web, websites were brochures. We used technology to create a new way of doing something familiar. Compare a website from 1994 or 2004 to a website of today; they bear little resemblance to each other as we found new ways of doing new things.

When processes interact with technology, we automate. Machines operate at a completely different speed than humans; with the advent of machine learning, deep learning, and ubiquitous, cheap cloud computing, machines execute processes far faster than any human could. How long does it take a human to read aloud a 5,000-word speech? Machines perform this task in seconds.

When we successfully manage the interactions of all three, we grow. We win. That’s how artificial intelligence and machine learning help us get to better, faster, and cheaper. The interaction of technology with automated processes allows us to free up our most scarce resource – people – to do more innovation.

What’s the Problem?

How do we make use of this? To answer this, we must consider what problem we have most.

  • Are we not fast enough?
  • Are we not efficient enough?
  • Are we not creating new value?

If we’re not fast enough, we should look at what we’re failing to automate well – the interaction of process and technology. Automation is a prerequisite to machine learning and AI – if we haven’t learned how to automate, we won’t use machine learning effectively.

If we’re not efficient enough, we should look at what we’re failing to scale – the interaction of people and process.

If we’re not creating new value, it’s because we’re failing to innovate – we haven’t used scale and automation to free up the time we need to innovate.

Consider any problem you face in business, in marketing, in work with this framework to uncover not only what’s wrong, but where to start fixing it.

Next: Strategy!

We’ll next look at how people, process, and technology interact with strategy. Stay tuned!

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