Rub two pieces of paper together and it causes friction. The pieces get hot. If done vigorously enough, and for a long enough period of time, they will eventually start on fire. Fortunately for all of us, this is not a phenomenon that is common in most businesses, despite millions of paper documents rubbing together in our offices on a daily basis.


With this in mind, I was surprised to pick up this month’s Popular Science Magazine and read an excellent, yet brief, article on the new discipline of Tribology. Tribology is a multidisciplinary idea whose name is derived from the Greek tribos, or “rubbing”. Interestingly enough, this new idea holds the potential to save British manufacturing over 515 million pounds per year. Tribology focuses on industrial machines with “interacting surfaces in relative motion”, a field pioneered by a lubrication expert named Peter Jost.

Process Friction

Reading the article I began thinking of the friction that I witness in many of the insurance and financial services companies I have visited over my career. Certainly there is the friction of tons of paper rubbing together, but that’s not what strikes me about this idea. The real friction that needs lubrication is the time, energy and cost in delivering their valuable products to their end customers, i.e. their processes. How much does this process friction cost companies? What is the cost in lost business? What is the opportunity cost in having the lowest friction processes in an industry?

You have probably experienced this friction if you have:

  • Applied for any kind of insurance policy or loan
  • Moved 401K dollars from one company to another
  • Had a car accident and filed a claim

How does Tribology fit in?

One of the points of the article is that friction in machines was partially due to the fact that plant managers needed a more thorough understanding of multiple disciplines including fluid dynamics, metallurgy, physics and others in order to reduce the friction in their machines.

Such is the case as well to solve process friction. The Tribology of process friction requires multiple disciplines that are not typically found in one manager or even one team. In my experience, having multidisciplinary teams in an organization that come at the problem of process friction from multiple perspectives including change management, enterprise program management, resource modeling, work process automation and document/data management is always the best approach.

What is your company’s strategy to take on process friction?

Note: Please check out the excellent article at: