|category:||Culture of Complexity|
In it, Bruce Silver recollects process reengineering gurus who warned “Don’t pave the cowpaths!”. Presumably because the cow path was a random walk all over the pasture land, and wasn’t the most efficient course.
However, anyone who was watched cows at work will tell you that the cow path is absolutely the most efficient possible path. It may wander, but it follows the contours of the land to minimize the energy the cow expends wandering from food to barn and back to food.
I think the metaphor, while colorful, may not be completely apt. The point about automating a poorly-designed legacy process is very important. Maybe there’s a better metaphor for this bad behavior.
Since cows (and most animals) are ruthlessly lazy, we have to be careful about metaphors based on their behavior. Automating a badly-designed business process is more like putting people-movers in a labyrinth than it is like paving a cow-path. A bad business process, like a maze, is something people create to make the walking around more important than reaching the goal. Walk through a garden maze, and you’ll see that the point of it is to conceal the goal.
Since “paving the cowpath” is shorter and more colorful than “putting a people mover in the labyrinth”, I can’t offer any real literary improvement. But I like my formula better because it points to the root-cause problem a little more clearly.