Tangled earphone cables and business processes

Turn this tangle

If you like to listen to music or audio books when commuting, the chances are that when you take your earphones out of your pocket or handbag, the cables will be in a tangled mess. Although it’s frustrating, this is predictable behaviour which was described in the paper “Spontaneous knotting of an agitated string,”  the winner of the 2008 Ignoble Award for Physics.  This has been commented on by various publications including The Independent 

Business process tangles are where a process folds back on itself, interferes with other processes or becomes a knotted mess where no one really knows what’s happening. This often emerge as an organisation grows or changes, and when no one is looking after the processes.  What we know about tangled strings and cables also applies to business processes:

 Factors that increase the probability of tangled cables

Equivalent reasons for business process tangles

String length

Process length.  The greater the number of steps in a process, the greater the probability that it will tangle

String flexibility

Unnecessary and unmanaged process variation. While processes should continually improve and be responsive to customer and business needs, all change must have an appropriate level of control.  

Points of contact or crossing 

End-to-end business processes should flow through from customer demand to delivery.  Where a process is ‘chopped up’ by organisational silos, there will be an increased probability of tangles caused by poor handover to the next process stage.

External motion

Poorly managed organisational change or response to customer demands is an equivalent force that can result in tangles.  Workarounds are added onto workarounds and the process tangles.

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