Pave the Cowpaths

Let’s take a look at architectural patterns. There is a well-known pattern of building paths in the parks. Author of design patterns calls it as Pave the Cowpaths and describes as:

Can you recognise the ‘desire paths’ of some of your users, and then codify them into your system, so others follow too?

As an example he provides the following story:

Example: In Tigard, Oregon, residents marked informal ‘neighbourhood trails’ they used on a map, so the city could prioritise ones to ‘formalise’.

A beautiful and clear solution from user experience point of view. However, the question is how does this pattern related to management that we are talking about in this blog. This is the pattern on how to build the right business process in tough to formalize environment.

Just imagine that you have to define processes on a newly created project. By its nature it has nothing common with you previous experience. It has no clear mapping to any classical management solution. And you have no clear vision in your head.

So, you can use Pave the Cowpath pattern. Just let the project live on its own. Define no processes. As you understand in a meanwhile a set of informal business processes will naturally appear. So, it will be the high time to formalize them.

Surprisingly, you might get a brilliant and clear solution. However, usually you get something strange and a bit messy as a result. Whatever you get, you have something to start with. You can polish, improve and redesign the processes but you will have them at least.

Moreover, you will get two guaranteed benefits that are the worth ignoring all the liabilities of this method. First of all this approach does work. Your artificially defined process didn’t block the job. And the second benefit is that this solution is absolutely organic. It has no pretty but useless additions from a management theory. You get the straightforward solution for your exact case. Isn’t it the process you where looking for?

Disclaimer: From the first sight it looks like oriental wisdom about sitting on the river bank and waiting for the corpse of your enemy. Strategically it is exactly the same. However tactically it isn’t. Please, don’t think that you should do just nothing and you’ll get the result. You must be part of the process, you must participate in building it. Do your job as you usually do. The only thing you should not do is to define the process until it is clear and proved to be working.

Inspired by:


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