People-Processes-Systems

In this article, I discuss the origin of the idea that organizations should first invest in people, then development of core processes, and finally systems (technologies) that will support the first two.

The Evolution of Popular Thought on this Topic

It is unclear who first coined the phrase “People-Processes-Systems” that many companies continue to cite today when explaining why they prioritize investments in people and processes over technology.

But we do know Harold J. Leavitt – a pioneer in the development of the academic field of organizational behavior with expert degrees from Harvard, Brown and MIT – released his Diamond Model for Analyzing Management Change in 1965. Leavitt demonstrates through his model now known as “Leavitt’s Diamond” that each element of an organization’s system – people, goals & tasks, and technology are interdependent. This means that change in any element cannot and will not occur in isolation.  In other words, change made in any one area of your organization will impact the entire system.

All remained relatively quiet on this academic front until the first book was published in the Information Technology Infrastructure Library, more commonly known as ITIL, in 1989.  But it wasn’t until 1999 when Bruce Schneier, then founder of Counterpane Internet Security, Inc. – now Chief Technology Officer of IBM Resilient – popularized the notion that security was a combination of people, process, and technology.

In 2013, he wrote in his blog that “…security back then was largely technology-only, and I was trying to push the idea that people and process needed to be incorporated into an overall security system.” He then went on to write “This blog post argues that the IT security world has become so complicated that we need less in the way of people and process, and more technology. […] The Golden Triangle of people, process and technology needs to be rebalanced in favor of automation. And I’m speaking as a pioneer and highly experienced expert in process and human factors. […] Today I’d ditch the Triangle. It’s become an argument against excessive focus on technology. […] We rely far too much on policy and people, neither of which are reliable, especially when dealing with fast-changing, large scale infrastructures.”

Why I Advocate for an Unrelenting Focus on Technology

In my professional opinion, management should reverse the triangle of People-Processes-Systems.  This does not mean that I value People less than rigorous Process or state of the art Technology, but rather the context in which potential talent should be evaluated.

Technology drives changes in our daily goals & tasks (or processes) not the other way around.  This is true regardless of the nature of your business.

There are few business owners that do not give preference to candidates who are facile with the company’s technologies especially after making a significant investment in a systems upgrade.  And, I know even fewer business owners considering investments in new technologies whose investment decision hinges on the quality of current processes or workforce knowledge.

So, it strikes me as odd that the first thing companies tend to do when planning a systems upgrade is to first figure out what everyone is either doing or should be doing then go look for technology that will best support those activities.  It is a behavior that inhibits transformational change. If your investments in technology do not lead to transformational change – then don’t make them. Your time, energy and effort will be better spent sharpening the tools you already have in the shed.

I encourage business owners to reverse the outdated and usually misapplied paradigm of People-Processes-Systems to succeed in the rapidly changing times ahead. And, to develop the ability to stay abreast of advancements in technology applicable to your industry and invest in those technologies as early as your risk-tolerance allows.

 

 

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