Responding to my earlier post, John Smith writes:
>So, Fred, have you observed a community that's coping with the disappearance
>of its practice? To me that would be a VERY interesting thing to hear
>stories about. (From anybody...!)
Well, actually, I've blown away some CoPs by way of automation. At one
company, the claims examiners were practically wiped out owing to the
introduction of a computer-based system that handled all but a fraction of
the claims that the examiners used to process. At another company, the
back end or suspense stream of financial aid forms were resolved by a group
known as financial aid assistants. Those were wiped out in their entirety
as a result of documenting their resolution work and recasting it in the
form of algorithms suitable for computer processing. Similarly for a
community of underwriters (roughly 90% of what they did was
automated). Much of what some even more high powered actuaries did was
automated, too; ditto for their kissin' cousins, some statisticians.
The blunt answer is that they don't cope too well with the disappearance of
their practice. Initially, they dismiss out of hand any claim that what
they do can be automated. They claim that it can't be automated
(inevitably an empty claim). Then, as they see their work being defined in
unambiguous ways by those whose own specialty is the definition,
description and design of work processes, they begin to resist. They dig
in their heels and become cooperative. So, you go around them. Instead of
getting them to help you figure out an alternative, machine-based process,
you figure it out without them. Next, as they begin to see that resistance
is futile, a few decide it is better to be one of the survivors and they
clamber back on board and see the effort through to its finish.
Generally speaking, the members of a CoP are pretty much like most people
who are not skilled in the study of work itself; they fail to draw clear
distinctions between and among work, worker and working. As a consequence,
they get nailed a lot. What's really interesting, to me, is to turn the
methods and techniques of the study of work on the study of work. (I'm a
firm believer in the notion that the best measure of anything is to turn it
on itself. If it's solid, it will produce value; if it's not, it won't.)
Anyway, I can't say that I've actually studied CoPs that were unravelling
(or being demolished) because the concepts and the language of CoPs were
new to me until a couple of years ago. In contrast, I've been ripping
apart and redesigning work processes for a good 20 years.
It might be the case that Etienne, Richard McDermott and some others, owing
to their longer study of CoPs, have observed some that were coming undone.
The Distance Consulting Company
"Assistance at A Distance"