The Concept of “Accomplishment”

Author: Alan Ramias

In most of the process maps I have seen produced by others, the process activities (or steps) are depicted like this:

Version 1




That is, the activities are described with a verb-noun format.  Whenever I have worked with a group of people for the first time and they begin to create process maps (without first being trained by PDL), this is the format they naturally, for some reason, apply.  (I suspect this is “natural” because it follows from the question, “What happens in this process?”  “Well, first we design the engine, then we manufacture the parts…”  It’s a grammatical construct that makes sense and is the way we describe how things happen.)


But those of you who have worked with PDL, or taken one of our process courses—such as the Rummler Process Methodology (RPM) or Process Modeling and Improvement—know that we promote a different approach to the naming of activities.  We say that instead of dwelling on activities, the steps in a process map should identify the accomplishments that are achieved as a result of what are often multiple activities.  That is, we see an accomplishment as generally being at a higher level than a single activity.  It is something more important than an activity, and is also measurable against organizational goals or milestones.


To indicate accomplishments inside the boxes on a process map, we use a noun-verb construct, as follows:

Version 2



You’re likely thinking, “What’s the difference between this map and the first one?”  And of course, there isn’t any in this particular example.  The activities in Version 1 are huge.  Designing an engine is composed of numerous sub-steps or activities that when all completed, constitute the achievement of a major accomplishment.  So reversing the noun and verb doesn’t make any difference.

This is why very often when working with client groups, I tend not to push the accomplishment notion.  I’ll explain it, demonstrate it, and if I’m leading the group in creating a map, I’ll apply it.  But often I can tell that I am the only one who really cares about the notion.  And I’ve learned that if I push it too hard, it tends to be viewed as an academic nicety rather than all that helpful.

So in actual practice, I’ve backed off from a militant application of the accomplishment notion and believe my colleagues at PDL have as well.  But still, there is something of real value here that is being overlooked and perhaps worth reviving.

The Origins of the Accomplishment Model

Geary Rummler was a partner with Tom Gilbert at Praxis Corporation from 1969-1979, where they promoted and applied their pioneering notions about performance technology.   The word “accomplishment” pops up in much of their writing, particularly in Gilbert’s book Human Competence:  Engineering Worthy Performance, in which he argued that results can only be produced by accomplishments. 

During his Rummler Group days, Geary often used a tool he called an Accomplishment Model, which could identify and link all the accomplishments an organization has to achieve, from the highest level down to individual jobs.  (A partial example is shown in Figure 1.)  This device could be used for a variety of diagnostic purposes, such as identifying potential breakdowns in accountability, or overlaps between parts of an organization.

And in process modeling, the concept of an accomplishment was intended to keep a group of process mappers from dropping down into the weeds, into small, insignificant activities.  The use of accomplishments also provides a managerial view of a process, which is important in distinguishing between all the details and the worthiness of the result.  To illustrate, here is a mythical cornball interchange between a visiting executive and a worker operating a drill press at a furniture factory.

Manager:    So what is it you do?

Operator:  Well, first off, I brush off the platen, to make sure there is no sawdust in the way.  Then I choose the next chair leg.  I always choose the right front corner leg if it is the first leg of a chair I am doing because then I work my way around the chair a leg at a time.  Then I align the leg on the platen, bottom toward me, like so.  Then I look to see if I must adjust the drill bit.  This is often the case.  And then…

Manager:   Good God, man, I asked you what you do!

Operator:   I’m telling you what I do.  Then I bring the drill bit down…

Manager:   OK, OK, what is it you accomplish with all this work?

Operator:   Oh.  Well, when I’m finished, the legs are ready to be assembled onto the chair.

The key question always is, “So what got accomplished?  What’s the result?” 

So long live accomplishments.  We shouldn’t lose the concept completely, even though we’ve come to recognize that it may strike some people as largely an academic distinction.