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“Method and Routine” is the title of the chapter 4 of the book 2 of Clausewitz On War. It was written between 1816 and 1830, the author was taken away by cholera before he could complete the final revision of this work. Only the first chapter of the first book was considered finished.

I found a few passages in “Method and Routine” that could be put in perspective with business process management / workflow. In our age, it’s common to draw parallels between the conduct of war and the conduct of business, so let me reproduce those passages here. I’m very interested in the rise of ACM and its relation to BPM (see Mastering the Unpredictable), those quotes bring forth valuable reflections (for me at least).

I took them from the excellent Howard and Paret translation, for those of you who read German, here is a link to an online version of the book/chapter.

“Method,” finally, or “mode of procedure”, is a constantly recurring procedure that has been selected from several possibilities. It becomes routine when action is prescribed by method rather than by general principles or individual regulation. It must necessarily be assumed that all cases to which such a routine is applied will be essentially alike. Since this will not be entirely so, it is important that it be true of at least ‘as many as possible’. In other words, methodical procedure should be designed to meet the most probable cases. Routine is not based on definite individual premises, but rather on the ‘average probability’ of analogous cases. Its aim is to postulate an average truth, which, when applied evenly and constantly, will soon acquire some of the nature of a mechanical skill, which eventually does the right thing automatically.

(Routines) As such they may well have a place in the theory of conduct of war, provided they are not falsely represented as absolute, binding frameworks for action (systems); rather they are the best of the general forms, short cuts, and options that may be substituted for individual decisions.

Finally we have to remember that as the number of officers increases steadily in the lower ranks, the less the trust that can be placed on their true insight and mature judgement. Officers whom one should not expect to have any greater understanding than regulations and experience can give them have to be helped along by routine methods tantamount to rules. These will steady their judgment, and also guard them against eccentric and mistaken schemes, which are the greatest menace in a field where experience is so dearly bought.
Routine, apart from its sheer inevitability, also contains one positive advantage. Constant practice leads to brisk, precise, and reliable leadership, reducing natural friction and easing the working of the machine.
In short, routine will be more frequent and indispensable, the lower the level of action. As the level rises, its use will decrease to the point where, at the summit, it disappears completely. Consequently, it is more appropriate to tactics than to strategy.

But any method by which strategic plans are turned out ready-made, as if from some machine, must be totally rejected.

The chapter ends with warning about poverty of imagination and examples where routines where re-used out of context and led to [military] disaster. (Could the re-use of those quotes out of their original context led to [some kind of] disaster ?).

When it comes to strategy and tactics, here is how Clausewitz put it in the same book :

Tactic teaches the use of armed forces in the engagements.
Strategy teaches the use of engagements for the object of war.


Written by John Mettraux

August 6, 2010 at 6:52 am

Posted in acm, books, bpm, workflow

L’armée des ombres

L'armée des ombresNot a workflow/BPM post.

I’ve just finished that book (‘Cien años de soledad’ is waiting, sorry). I really like Joseph Kessel‘s style. I read too much english, I need some french from time to time.

This book is about french resistance (WWII). It asks many questions. Who are you in the light of action ? Who are you in the shade of action ?

Europe changed so much since these days. When thinking back to the two WWs, my inner question is : how many talented youngsters died ?
But since then, haven’t we invented other ways to waste minds ?

Written by John Mettraux

July 3, 2006 at 8:24 pm

Posted in blahblah, books

Le peuple des connecteurs

I just finished that book. I know, it’s in french. I don’t think it’s been translated, but it would deserve it.

The title says (excuse my sloppy translation skills) : “The people of the connecting-ones : they don’t vote, they don’t study, they don’t work… but they change the world”.

At first, I was a bit afraid, french people may have a strong culture, but it’s usually a “mono-culture”. They tend to be heavily french-centered.
But this book is just fine, it gives what it promises. It was a delight to read (especially after a long sequence of american books about BPM / workflow).

Instead of trying to summarize the book, I gathered a set of links to subjects that the book develops.

The author’s mention of Nick Bostrom simulation argument is especially challenging.

This book made me think about emergency in the terms of ’emerging business processes’. The idea might be enonciated like : “letting usable/efficient business processes emerge from a soup of simple business/office interactions”. Simple rules, stacked, leading to emerging complex behaviours.
OK, it’s late… I should stop tweaking my synapses on that. Speaking of neurons, that might go into that direction

A final sunday quote : “BPM/workflow is a philosophical approach to producing applications that allow people to work in a more coordinated manner” (Keith Swenson)

I’d like to confront the ideas of the book and that final quote which, IMHO, revolves around the words ‘coordinated’ and ‘people’.
The book somehow defines a “connecting-one” as someone practicing self-coordination with the other “connecting-ones”. The BPMS might be a platform for that. We could capture that coordination result into a business process (we could have said ‘discover’). The platform would be flexible enough to adapt to further changes in the coordination / connections.

disclaimer and meta : this is just a blog post, it may seem as a soup of half-baked ideas and it probably is, but that’s blog fun. I have a tag for that : “blahblah“.

Written by John Mettraux

June 25, 2006 at 9:59 pm

Posted in blahblah, books, bpm, workflow

I want a book

I want a book, just a unique book.

There are less things around me. You may call that zen.
There are enough infrastructure and services to allow me the nomadic life I always dreamt of.

As I travel, and these days, I do it a lot by train, my iPod is with me, and in it, there is all my music.

I want the same for all the books I love. I want it to look like a book (like the iPod somehow look like a walkman) but I want it to contain all my books. With the annotations, with the comments my friends wrote in them when they offered them to me.

If I could write in it, if the left page could be page x of cien años de soledad and the right page, some notes I’m taking (this blog I’m writing, posted on sync), that’d be perfect. I would zap away the notes to browse for a spanish word I didn’t understand, dictionary.
I could hyperlink books together (I could explicitely do it, authors did it, openly or in a hidden way, I would just discover and tag such links).

It would be the diamond age. I can’t remember if Nell could write in her book though.

Such a book, would just be an interface to a mix of personal data (annotations, links, …) and communal data.

Written by John Mettraux

June 17, 2006 at 2:14 pm

Posted in blahblah, books

Activity-Based Costing (a hint)

Should I call that a ‘hint’ or a ‘small step towards a part of a solution’ ? What’s the problem to solve then ?

These days my eyes are stuck into “BPM3“, I like that book. I won’t review it here though. On page 94, they mention Activity-Based Costing. I’ve seen this enabled within some commercial workflow engines.

I won’t explain what hides behind this concept, I won’t provide any full solution for it, I’ll just give a hint on how a cost statistic could get gathered within a process definition. It will also demonstrate a bit how expressive OpenWFE can get.

So here is a process definition, in OpenWFE lingo :

<process-definition name="abc-process" revision="0.99">

        <set field="total-cost" value="0" />

        <activity aname="activity-a" acost="100" />
        <activity aname="activity-b" acost="200" />

        <if test="${f:need-more}" >
            <!-- then -->
            <activity aname="activity-c" acost="100" />
            <!-- else -->
            <activity aname="activity-d" acost="50" />

        <participant ref="gather-stats" />

    <process-definition name="activity">
            <set field="total-cost" inc="${acost}" />
            <participant ref="${aname}" />


The body of the process definition is just a sequence with 4 participants involved. The last participant in the sequence is less vague than the ‘activity-*’ ones, it’s meant to dump the field ‘total-cost’ somewhere (within a db ?) for further mining.
The others (activity-*) are maybe webservice calls or human participants. The engine doesn’t care, its participant-map knows, it could change, at its own pace, following its own rules.

In the [sub]process-definition, you can see that two variables, ‘acost’ and ‘aname’, are involved, and you perhaps noticed that they are in fact attributes of the newly available ‘activity’ expression pointing to our subprocess, which conveniently hides the detail of the ‘cost gathering’ from the body of the process definition.

This ‘costing’ tool (our ‘activity’ process) could be advantageously at use within a process definition with a cursor within which a flow rides back and forth :

        <activity aname="activity-a" acost="100" />
        <activity aname="activity-b" acost="200" />
        <activity aname="activity-c" acost="50" />

OpenWFE comes with a library service within its engine. This service’s task is to interpret engine-wide process definitions that are then made available to all the process definitions within that engine. The subprocess definition ‘activity’ would happily fit there, providing ‘costing’ to all the process definitions within the engine.

Out of the box, the library service read to engine-wide process definitions from the etc/engine/library.xml file.

Written by John Mettraux

May 17, 2006 at 7:50 pm

Posted in books, bpm, openwfe, workflow

Revolution in the Valley

That’s what I’m currently reading.

I’m not a Mac fan. I prefer to have a linux box, to feel the raw power and tweak it the way I like (and an xterm is what I need mostly… But I have to admit that when you’ve got lots of xterm windows open, “exposé” is… well… addictive.

Back to the book, it’s a nice book with great content. Somehow makes you feel nostalgic of that incredible era.

The book is based on this set of stories.

A friend of mine told me the other he had offered a Mac to his wife. “Are you sure ?”, he laughed and answered : “Somehow I offered myself not to have to support her windows laptop anymore”.

“Revolution in the Valley” by Andy Hertzfeld

Written by John Mettraux

March 5, 2006 at 10:14 am

Posted in books, mac

First post

Trying WordPress…

My goal is to have here a place where I can discuss freely about my work on OpenWFE and workflow management systems in general.

The theme ‘fauna’, I chose is beautiful, but I’m longing for a way of modifying it a bit, but that shall be for further explorations.

I’m also looking for a way to display OpenWFE process definitions in XML in a post.

Just finished the Difference Engine by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson. I really liked the last part, the fragments, and especially the lecture given by Lady Ada.

update : I switched theme, as Fauna was lacking the ‘sidebar editor’ link.

Written by John Mettraux

March 1, 2006 at 4:49 pm

Posted in books, bpm, openwfe, workflow