Process and product, or, both sides now

I’ve been thinking about process versus product, which tends to remind me of this quote:

In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.

Professionally, I tend to focus on the product. That’s in no small way due to the course of my career. I began as a high school teacher, and my graduate program highlighted techniques for teaching well.

ProductWhen I moved to corporate training, the focus shifted to how to train and then how to train well. I learned from people like Bob Mager and Joe Harless that “training well” sometimes means “don’t waste time having people memorize what they can more effectively look up.”

The next eye opener was learning about the human performance technology model (useful examples and discussion in this PDF). Its strong emphasis on results (another term for product) permanently changed how I looked at so-called training problems:

  • What’s the gap between what Allison Rossett calls optimals and actuals on the job?
  • What factors other than skill and knowledge might be part of that gap?
  • How can you address those factors?
  • How will you monitor your success?

To me, the major focus was on product. So the particulars of, say, an instructional design process aren’t as important as the product that process delivers.

ProcessLately I’m looking more closely at process. The 10,000 hours that John Medina mentions are required for expertise are in a real sense a repeated process. And sometimes the process is part of the product.

I’m a big believer in job aids. Some are like training wheels: you use them until you master the underlying task. For others, you don’t want memorization. Part of the goal is to have people rely on the job aid. The guidance may change so often that part of the product is “using the job aid.” Or the consequences are so high that memorization is not an asset — as with preflight checklists.

My thought today is that awareness plus deliberate action leads to habit. I’m trying to acquire and strengthen some work habits, hence the focus on process. I’m hoping that adding feedback (call it post-mindfulness) to the mix will lead to improved product, which will never be called Dave 2.0.

Statistics file photo by ex_libris_gul / Heather.
Poker photo by Philofoto / Christian Fortier.

5 thoughts on “Process and product, or, both sides now

  1. Kia Ora Dave!

    For many years I worked in Science research – a practitioner. I then began a teaching career – a practitioner. It took me some years in both these jobs to realise the rift that lay between what was done ‘in practice’ and what should happen ‘in theory’.

    I then began to realise the difference between the two disciplines – and they are separate disciplines.

    Theory tends to be absolute. There is no (real) arguing about what governs what. In practice we have things that we have to invent to rationalise why things don’t work the way we expect them to – excuses, or otherwise thought of as the reality factors: things we call errors.

    There is a whole mathematical study that is devoted to errors and that study transcends most disciplines.

    Some so-called practitioners tend to ignore the factors that arise due to ‘errors’. Others use them to their advantage, especially if what is observed is close to what is deemed acceptable taking into account possible errors.

    For me it is a very human thing to err. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not religious, but I have learnt enough about humankind to know that ‘practice’ refers to what is done and ‘theory’ refers to what we think should be done.

    Unfortunately the theory is not always as accurate as we’d like it to be, despite all this, as our erstwhile cosmologists, sub-atomic physicists and the like have often found out. For theoreticians this is fascinating stuff. For practitioners it can be a pain in the neck.

    Frankly, I think that most theoreticians would benefit from a course in woodwork. It brings reality into the picture.

    K kite

  2. Ken, thanks for joining in.

    As an English major it’s been my impression that the best of science rests on three legs.

    One is the curiosity I think Asimov had in mind when he said the great statement is not “Eureka!” but “That’s funny…”

    The second is insistence on replicability. Can someone who’s not me produce the same results?

    The third has two sides: the construction of understanding over time, and the realization that there’s no “scientific proof,” only “the best explanation we have so far.”

    Human error is what got us where we are. Our ancestors changed because they learned from their errors (and from those who didn’t survive their own).

    You’re so right that we’re practically driver to rationalize errors. That’s part of making patterns, I think, a thing our brains can’t help. It’s also an admonition to teachers, trainers, and others: if your point’s not clear, your audience will invent the best one they can.

  3. Dave- do I hear Judy Collins singing in my head for some reason? BSN?

    My view of Product and Process is from the late 1970s view from the then Quality Movement. I always think of Product-Process via my original “mental image” of same – provided by the Ishikawa Diagram (a.k.a.: Fishbone or Cause-and-Effect diagrams)from Japan in the mid-1950s and how that always has informed my approaches and models/methods to address both human performance improvement and instructional systems design.

    And that “Form” (Process) should normally “follow function” (to create Product) – unless one is experimenting with Process and trying to get out of the box of typical Process thinking.

    And recognizing a good-from-a-bad Process requires understanding the Product’s requirements.

    And that some stakeholders have requirements around Products – but that they don’t care how, the Process, you got there (sausage).

    And some stakeholders care about the Process and don’t care about the products (child labor laws).

    And sometimes a stakeholder, or many, cares about both.

    And that their requirements might be varied – and sometimes in conflict. And that balancing stakeholder requirements is sometimes necessary. Trading off one for another – when they conflicted. So sometimes, not everybody wins.

    And that “The Customer is King (not)!” Who wins when in conlict: The Customer – or the Government? The Customer – or the Owners/Shareholder?

    And that a Process that delivers Products to: “Stakeholder Requirements” – depends on two key sets (in my models) of “Enablers.” 1- Human Assets. 2- Environmental Assets.

    If the Human and all other non-human Environmental assets aren’t in balance and in sufficient quantity to meet the needs of the Process, the Product will suffer.

    And then my personal “learnings” from folks such as Tom Gilbert, Geary Rummler, Joe Harless and Bob Mager – regarding the Human Assets. Less so from them about the non-human assets. Less so from places such as ISPI for understanding a addressing the non-human assets. What I label as the Environmental Assets.

    That’s when I need to partner, to collaborate. To “Divide and Conquer.” To learn enough from others to more see the need for someone like them to put their lens-on-it.

    That’s also why I enjoy your Blog!

    Thanks for posting! It’s part of my learning (Process) for improving my knowledge and skills (Product).

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Guy, like you I learned a lot from Gilbert, Rummler, Mager, and Harless. The first two helped me zoom out, so to speak, and see the bigger picture: how does this alleged “training problem” fit into a larger context? The latter two (as you know) also shared that systems approach, but for me made more sense at the nuts-and-bolts level of how does this person, this group, go about doing what it’s doing.

    To squeeze my post into less than 15 words:

    When it comes to process and product, it’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

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