A self healing system - Desire paths

A self healing system

We are good at setting standards, but do we take them as a baseline for improvement or do we end up in bureaucracy? Standardization means automation. We take our insights and wire them to procedures. Step 1 followed by step 2 in exactly the order we prescribed: entirely deterministic, but perfect?

What about when we are all wrong? What about if we build up a wrong standard? Good for us, but useless for our customers? What if they desire another path, perfectly sane, but our system does not provide it? Should we keep it with: "We are sorry, this action is not provided"?

Parks in Finland

In Finland, planners are known to visit their parks immediately after the first snowfall, when the existing paths are not visible. People naturally choose desire lines, which are then clearly indicated by their footprints and can be used to guide the routing of new purpose built paths.  (Desire path, Wikipedia, 19th of June 2013)

A desire path (right) merges with a footpath (center) in Helsinki, Finland (Wikipedia)

Wrong standards are business bugs. Get over it! They do not meet customer needs, instead they show an opportunity to learn or worse - your ignorance.

So what to do now?

Automate less complex, learn from existing data, ask your frontline staff.

Automate less complex

Da Vinci said: "Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication." So if you automate a process, simplify it first. Do not blindly automate everything, question it. Prefer an simple implementation over one with lots of different scenarios. A simple scenario can go for itself - they can be healed, complex scenarios tend to be waste and difficult to use and exclude everything which was not considered by its builders.

Reconsider automation of systems with a lot of ad-hoc-racy. Determinism might lead to a lot of maintainance of the automation you want to provide. 

Learn from existing data

You always got data - learn from it. Have a look at which way data is used, what behaviour is associated to it? What does surprise you while looking at it? What is fascinating? What interesting? Learn from the real world. Iterate, prototype, gather feedback from customers. You got no contact to them - step out of the door, insights are waiting:

"You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." (Lord of the rings, Tolkien) 

Ask your frontline staff

Whenever you have touchpoints within your service, you will have frontline staff who is in close contact with customers. These people know the paths who are unable to go and cannot be healed within the system.