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Untangling Capability, Process, and Service (1) - How to?

An untangling exercise benefits from being well though-out and structured. This article outline the most important aspects to keep in mind while reading.

The starting point for the untangling series: The wonderfully convoluted worlds of Capabilities, Processes and Services

Btw: these articles aimed at experts, working behind the curtain. If you don't mind a mental exercise, then please continue with the article(s).

If you are looking for “simplicity” then I suggest to skip to the end of the series where I present a fusion of the essences of “capability”, “process”, and “service”.

Human centric, work oriented, and instrumental

At the center of untangling three principles are important. The approach I’m take is human centric, work oriented, and instrumental. These principles offer a focus on what is most important (salient). They provide advice on how the evaluate performance (how well). The instrumental and enabling use of capability, process, and service ideas and analysis techniques must be worthwhile to people in work they do with others. The focus is firmly set on generating benefits for people, their work, problems and questions, and not on technical qualities of work products or techniques. Qualities such as workable, beneficial, material, acceptable, and agreeable take precedence over product qualities.

Example: A business analyst is working with value chains and values streams, while a supervisor is focused on actual happenings, jobs and work to be done.

See also: A Point-of-View needs good Stories


I am using the metaphor of looking at the world through capability, process, and service lenses. This metaphor enables us to focus on one concept at a time, from the perspective of someone who has work to do. A visual language simplify untangling reasoning.

Example:  When we look at an organisation we see them. Depending on where we are, we see and recognise different capabilities, processes and/or services.

See also: Interweaving & Architectural Thinking as a pair of Architectural Lenses or Glasses

General meaning

The words “capability”, “process” and “service” have been part of natural language for hundreds of years and over time accumulated general meanings. These common sense meanings influence people and how they think about the words. I will search for the general meanings behind each word and use them for untangling and in discussions about similarities and differences.

Example:  A process is a “series of changes that happen naturally” [Cambridge Dictionary]

Specific meanings

It is equally important to recognise the manifold or specific meanings. In almost all cases, it is a specific meaning that is discussed by experts, theory builders and method developers, and used by practitioners. The recognition and acceptance of specific meanings and specific approaches are crucial to untangling since it provides an equal playing field for experts. They all use specific senses and are now offered a neutral place for comparisons and harmonisation of their views. They can ‘meet’ at the place of general concepts and branch out to their own places.

Example: Business process definition: ”a collection of activities that takes one or more kinds of input and creates an output that is of value to the customer.” from Hammer and Champy (1993) {Hammer:1993ue}

Note: there are other places to ‘meet’ but in this method we gather at the general place.

Informed reasoning and situating

The untangling method introduce a shift from the attitude of “lets take this stuff from the author because it is supposed to be good” to informed reasoning and situating. I start from the general meanings behind capability, process, and/or service and add a number aspects and arrive at something useful (and specific). The following list outline various aspects that can be added.

General sense

+ informed reasoning

+ theories, algorithms, beliefs, hypothesis, assumptions 

+ method elements

+ manner (style, history, etc.)

+ situation, work to be done

+ approach

= workable, acceptable and agreeable Specific sense

Example: A functional approach to capability defines a capability with a reference to function. The ability of a system to provide a service or perform a function that, either on its own or with other services or functions, can deliver a definable level of performance. This level of performance is measurable within a framework of performance indicators and safety requirements. [ICAO 9854, ICAO  9882:2008]

The fusion - Tripple-O

At the end of this series I am introducing a fusion, a composite vocabulary, that integrates the essence of “capability”, “process”, and “service” into one model - “Tripple-O”. The reason for the name will be revealed later.

This article is continue here - 2nd part. Untangling Capability, Process, and Service (2)- How to?

These two articles provides key background information about the method and its focus. Soon time to start the untangling!


/Anders W. Tell

/WorkEm Toolsmiths

Untangling Capability, Process, and Service (2) - ...
A Point-of-View needs good Stories

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