Process Documentation as Theatre

Esteemed colleagues: please feel free to take this as seriously or as lightly as you choose.

Lately I've been thinking about scripts. As in theatre, not perl.

Elizabethan theatre wasn't done with scripts as we know them: each actor's script contained only the lines for his own character. Of course, they still needed a way to figure out when to say their lines, so each speech was preceded by the cue to wait for; there'd be a few words from someone else's line, and then your own. As long as you knew what to wait for and could deliver the last bit of your own lines properly, everyone could act their parts perfectly, improvise freely, and still be blissfully ignorant of most of everyone else's roles. The only one who saw the entire script was the author himself.

What might we learn if we applied these principles to the operation of the high-tech corporation? After all, the corporate world uses scripts, just like the theatrical world, although in business we call the scripts "process documents" and the cues are things like "User submits trouble ticket". Unfortunately, most of the people who write the process documents don't seem to follow the simple methods Shakespeare used. For one thing, they're usually just trying to jot down the lines of a play which already exists: a heavily improvisational play that's been around for years and much of which nobody actually understands anymore. The process documentors have probably never seen this play all the way through, much less acted in it. At best they've had the play described to them, and at worst they dream up their own play and present it as an improved version of the real one. And without a complete script of the real play, including every line, its speaker, and the lines which come before and after, how could anyone not directly involved at every step possibly see the play as a whole? How would they write the abbreviated scripts for each actor? How would they know which parts don't make any sense at all and which will be explained later on in the play? How will the vial of poison appear in the last act if the "author" himself doesn't know where it comes from? SOMEONE HAS TO KNOW THE WHOLE STORY, and it had better be the person writing the master script if you have any intent of improving the play or at least fixing the really awful parts.

While business management theory has traditionally borrowed ideas from martial science and professional sports, I predict that the new modern management will draw from the realms of arts and entertainment. In anticipation of this trend, I present here a prototype of the process document of the future. By recording the reality of the process "in the wild", grim as it may be, the inefficiencies of the existing system could be identified and opportunities for radicial improvement could be seized. Assuming, of course, that anyone bothers to do so. Ultimately, someone has to care enough to fix what's broken, or else the effort was purely frivolous. Which might be okay too, actually. And so, without much further ado: an example of just such a document.

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Copyright 1999 Benjy Feen /

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