Several years ago, I hiked the Inca Trail in Peru. The trek included three plus days of hiking, climbing, crawling, sweating and an occasional exasperated utterance. Each day presented me with a new set of challenges and tasks to confront and to overcome. In some cases, failure was not an option with without endangering myself, fellow trekkers, guides or porters (or all of them at once). Each accomplishment brought its own value while moving us closer to the ultimate goal Machu Picchu. Metaphysically the process could be viewed as a form of ritual purification. The process presents the supplicant with a series of tasks and hurdles to overcome to bring him or her to a point where the larger goal can be grasped. The journey is an important part of reaching the ultimate goal. Taking the train to Machu Picchu would not deliver the same enlightenment as toiling for days to attain that goal. Both have a value and one or the other might not be an available option in every circumstance however under no circumstances should the value each delivers be confused with being the same.

The parable of the trek can be used in the process improvement arena. Organizations whose sole rationale for the journey is the goal, the approval or certification can easily be tempted to look for methods to “take the train,” in other words, to jump to the end without the effort between the beginning and the end. “Taking the train” has made many faces: buying a set of processes and implementing them blindly, hiring consultants to define, develop and implement process improvement without your organizations intimate participation or outsourcing to an organization that already has the title or certification you’re seeking. The scenarios are not valueless rather they provide significantly less value than derived from the ritual purification of the trek. I’m not suggesting organizations blindly blunder down the SPI path as a learning process: guides, porters and tools can help you make the journey in your own way. Making the journey in your own way provides the greatest possibility of learning, growing and transforming. The guides can provide best practices, templates knowledge and guidance however without making the journey these pieces of knowledge capital will not be easily internalized. It will be easy to view the requirements of change as external pressures to be resisted rather than embraced. Humans and organizations resist change primarily due to fear or complacency. The ritual purification built into the journey is a tool to break the complacency and transform fear into action; to incorporate the journey with all of its trials and tribulations into part of the solution rather than just an obstacle in the way of attaining your process improvement goal.