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Ramadan in the GCC – A lesson in ECM & BPM Project Governance August 16, 2011

Posted by Sanooj Kutty in Business Process Management, Enterprise Content Management.
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The Holy Month of Ramadan brings forth a religious and spiritual ambience to the GCC. How it manages to create this mood is through reduced working hours ( 6 hours a day) and enforcement of abstinence from food and beverage
consumption during the fasting hours ( dawn to dusk). Both, the reduced hours and the abstinence are applicable to one and all, irrespective of their religion.

For those less aware of Ramadan, it is a holy month in the Islamic (Hijri) Calendar when Muslims all over the world fast from dawn to dusk without water and food. During this period, Muslims also give plenty in charity (Zakat), abstain from all sins and maintain discipline and order. In the GCC, this is encouraged by less work pressure but is also enforced through regulations that support the practices of the month.

How this impacts the Muslims and Non-Muslims is very interesting to observe. The Muslims, obviously, welcome the environment in the GCC as it helps them go through the month through social support and acceptance. The Non-Muslims, especially new arrivals from countries with minimal Islamic exposure (expect the next generation French to lead this group), tend to be frustrated and then over time adjust themselves with great difficulty at being forced not to eat or drink in public (Funnily, they rarely tend to praise the convenience of reduced working hours and pressure).

Yet, the governments are able to manage this in spite of the fact that they have a strong Non-Muslim expatriate workforce that is also necessary to keep their country functional and their economy alive. Bear in mind that there is no excessive force applied to enforce these practices upon others. Also, the Non-Muslims are not forced to fast; they are merely restricted from consumption in public as mark of respect. In fact, there are a few restaurants open and all restaurants are allowed to do home delivery.

How then, do the governments manage this?

It’s simple, through Acceptance and Enforcement.

While the majority Muslims accept with open and spiritual arms, the significant minority Non-Muslims swallow it as a spoonful of culture and a bowl full of strict regulations. A heady mix of belief and fear has worked its magic to ensure the Holy Month of Ramadan has for decades kept its sanctity and structure in the GCC as per the practices of this region.

As an inspired ECM and BPM professional, my challenges in projects have always been about bringing best practices and standards of both domains into active use. I would not be bold to say that they have been major successes most of the time with respect to the initial objectives of such projects (see ECM = Enterprise Culture Management: The GCC Analogy for the rationale).

Just like the month of Ramadan, ECM and BPM projects also require discipline (to maintain consistency), abstinence (to avoid old bad habits) and regulations (strong policies to enforce practice). If one is able to add charity (flexibility to function) to this mix, a recipe for better project success may be there for us to savor.

ECM and BPM projects must address the requirements of the larger public (the business users) to gain Acceptance while restraining the old habits of the significant minority (the management) through Enforcement as most deviations originate from management than the “Average Joe” workforce.

Perhaps, the Rest of the World can learn something from GCC on how to apply governance through a mix of acceptance and enforcement. Now, if only GCC corporates also learnt this, I would have more satisfying projects delivered to write home about.

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Comments»

1. Max J. Pucher - August 16, 2011

Sanooj, religious subjects are certainly more difficult and risky to discuss than political ones and substantially more than IT related themes. But having lived in Saudi Arabia for many years I had to work during Ramadan and live with the consequences. I will not comment on it to avoid false interpretations.

Let me just say one thing. The majority of people on this planet regardless of faith consider it a personal and private choice and secular from government. Laws don’t ensure observance but that everyone has the right to believe what he wants and must not be prohibited to openly practice his faith as long it is otherwise law abiding.

Let me also add that I consider it truly strong faith if someone observes its rules without fear of earthly punishment. I don’t see why a believing Muslim should be tempted by seeing someone else drink. Respect shouldn’t be enforced either but must usually be earned. I certainly respect people of Islamic or any other faith, especially when I see that they truly observe it and tolerate my different view.

But yes, I do agree that some promote orthodox BPM concepts (and others) and IT principles with religious faith and like some religious fanatics they are deeply offended if you doubt their belief.

So a lot more important than enforcement is TOLERANCE. In a modern free society of well-educated people just like in a modern managed business, enforcement must be a sideline, but rather management should educate their employees to their objectives of customer outcome and the benefits of reaching goals and motivate them to follow and achieve them.

Having said that most Western societies have way too many laws, rules and regulations and it doesn’t get any easier to be complliant as a citizen and as a business. Especially in Anglican countries there is little tolerance to those who break the rules. The proverbial Nanny-State who governs evey little aspect of life for the ‘benefit’ of its citizens has certainly more rules than the Quran or the Bible.

So all in all, it is not surprising that some continue to believe that to govern, control and enforce all aspects of running a business with BPM is the right way to go.

2. Sanooj Kutty - August 16, 2011

Max,

I have to agree and disagree with you there.

While I do agree with you on how the majority of the world considers religion a personal choice and secular from the government, we must also have to accept those worlds that do not consider so also exist.

And that these worlds also require ECM and BPM implementations. It is in this context that I found the way Ramadan is managed as an interesting case study. The success is of course achieved by the fact that the majority are Muslims and in support of it. Here, comes the case for Acceptance. While the minority who may not be really comfortable with these practices have to follow suit through enforcement.

Quite similarly, organizations , though may be made up of individuals, however, need to achieve collective goals and objectives through effective ECM and BPM implementations. It may make sense to adopt your strategies around practices accepted by the majority with the minority being asked for follow suit.

Yes, there is the risk of revolt. But organizational enforcement need not be discriminatory nor harsh in nature.

There is no magic pill but if one is to bring governance, a certain level control and restrictions is inevitable. Its just the depth and severity that can make a difference between balance and extreme.

3. Chedderman - August 16, 2011

Intriguing epistle…. GCC is Acronym for?

Sanooj Kutty - August 16, 2011

Thanks. GCC is acronym for Gulf Cooperation Council. I have placed a link to GCC on Wikipedia at the beginning of the post.

iqu, llc - August 19, 2011

I had to google GCC…did not see the link..Ramadan Syeed/Eid Karim

Stephanie Quick

Sanooj Kutty - August 24, 2011

Hi Stephanie,

The link is in blue in the body content at the beginning of the post.

4. Satheesh Krishnan - August 20, 2011

I have been living in UAE for the last 16 years and never ever found any difficulty during the holy month of Ramadan being a non Muslim and had to never curse any one for that matter but look forward to the month not only for the less working hours but is often the time for socializing and festivities where you interact with other religion and cultures . Many of my Muslim friends invite me to their home and the other way around during the month . I am often amazed by the will power of many of my friends who are fasting during the month drop in to the pantry while i have my breakfast or coffee and chit chat with me without being distracted or intimidated . I wonder the reason for the author to doubt the willpower of the Muslim brothers and the intentions of those who follow other faiths .

The efforts to compare with ECM project acceptance or rejection to the practise of holy Ramadan is way off the mark . The projects often fails due to the lack of preparation and lack of communication whether it is ECM , BPM or a Social project . The project manager should be able to understand the concerns of the minority and take them by confidence instead of using the enforcement card which is often misunderstood by the normal user. This needs patience , listening skills ,maturity , man management & leadership skills. You can learn from the Prophet’s (PBUH)life and teachings that he had these qualities in plenty and was able to take everyone including his opponents by confidence and was extremely successful in his mission . More over he taught the world the path to success is not through short cuts but through righteousness.

Sanooj Kutty - August 20, 2011

Hi Satheesh 🙂

I do agree with you about Muslims who are able to mingle when others are eating and drinking. Personally, I am one among those Muslims where I do accompany my colleagues to the pantry and even sit for a chit chat with them for lunch. It is also true that not all non-Muslims curse regarding Ramadan,, and a vast majority of them so respect it too. Some of them even try fasting during the period. After 16 years and a pantry facility, this surely does not become a cruse, but a majority of them do find it inhumane when they start out and do not find a place to drink water or eat lunch.

However, the context was with regards to how organizations (in this case governments) approach this period in this region and ensure the regulations and objectives set my them are met. My argument is that if the objectives of the majority are met and they help the organization move forward, then the objections of the minority may have to be handled through policies and enforcement. In business and growth, equality and total acceptance of any program or activity is more a myth than reality. Just as non-muslims over time find their space to consume during this period and at the same time respect the laws of the land (note, laws of the land and not the religion), an organization’s minority will also find its space.


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