Standard operating procedures… or are they?

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) have been pivotal in codifying and standardising the use cases of service providers for many years. The theory goes that if you can standardise a process, then you can produce repeatably high quality and streamline it in a cycle of continual improvement.

The repeatability objective is one* of two primary recollections from a book that I read many years ago called The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. It’s one of the best selling business books of all time and had a significant impact on inherent repeatability within a business. It is an objective that is still highly relevant to the OSS industry, in part represented by the “automate everything” mantra that pervades today.

There’s only one slight problem with the concept of a SOP – I tend to find that there is no standard operating procedure. Our inability to control complexity, in OSS and other parts of the service provider business model, has created a multitude of variants for any given product line. The greater the number of variants there are in a process flow, the harder it is to maintain a standard. You’ve all seen the processes I talk about haven’t you – the ones with complex conditional paths, off-page references to side flows, many hand-overs and hand-backs between swim-lanes, incomplete mappings, etc.

With the changing digital supply chain predicted by John Reilly in his work on The Value Fabric, the number of swimming lanes as well as the more transient nature of process state change represented by network virtualisation and the touchpoint explosion, it’s obvious that associated process complexity is only going to amplify.

This becomes extremely challenging for the traditional OSS / BSS, where standardised workflows are the building blocks upon which automations are constructed.

More on the alternatives tomorrow.

* BTW, the other recollection from The E-Myth is the mindset difference between the predominant Technicians (creating a job for oneself) vs Entrepreneurs (creating a self-sustaining business).

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