Adaptive Case Management: Basic, Full, or Strategic?

I am all for a commonly agreed definition of ACM as long as it does not limit the necessary benefits for business. I propose that ACM has been pretty well-defined already, but because so many vendors – either BPM or otherwise – have differing functionalities, no written consensus has been reached. Quite understandable when the goal is to define a market fragment or product category that everyone wants to lead or that BPMS do ACM anyway. My intention was always different. I want to expand on today’s very limiting implementations of BPM and bring it out of the doldrums of existing BPMS relying on flowcharting. Yes, there is most probably a market for a basic ACM functionality, but that will move to the Cloud with the likes of Trello and AtTask.

Why is BPM my target for improvement?

I have been recently criticized for quoting Peter Drucker as an argument for ACM versus BPM. It is obvious that BPMS do not support knowledge work and don’t empower the user. I also quote W. Edwards Deming who proposed that it is essential to make the business system transparent to understand how it performs against the value goals. BPMS do not do that either, but only focus on reducing cost by standardizing procedure. Efficiency is however not about economies of scale. Toyota’s Taiichi Ohno proposed that efficiency will be achieved by ensuring uninterrupted flow (the Just-In-Time concept). Meaning that the system has to be ready when the flow comes in and therefore you actually need the idle resources that BPM or LEAN want to cut as waste. The fallacy of BPM is that standardization of work will reduce the cost and while that may be true in manufacturing it is not so for service work. UK management thinker John Seddon says that when you reduce the ability of a system to handle variety then you reduce the value delivery and increase the failure demand and both drive up cost. Hence, when you focus on cost reduction you drive it up, but only when you focus on delivering value then the cost will be lowered! ACM is the embodiment of such value-focused BPM methodology through business-friendly and low-bureaucracy technology empowerment.

A Functional Spectrum for ACM (and BPM)

I propose that ACM represents a spectrum of functionality that can be seen from different perspectives. In the following I created a first try of a matrix that maps ACM levels and styles. Look at it as a structured listing and not a hierarchy of dependencies. I use a business perspective to describe functionality and not technical implementation language. The functions are not aligned or co-dependent in row or column. I have used the term ‘Evolutionary’ to describe a complex-adaptive-system style of process management. For BPMS today most of the functionality listed in Dynamic, Adaptive and Evolutionary styles has to be handled by slow and expensive governance or by integration work with other software systems such as for rules and content. Don’t take the assignment of functions to styles as too literal. I was not easy to assign them and it is a matter of how the function has been implemented. From the feature matrix one can construct any kind of BPM, ACM or Collaboration system. Pick and chose to define the system you need or want to buy:

ACM Levels and Styles by Function

An ACM Manifesto?

Keith Swenson proposes the creation of an ACM Manifesto, which is one possible way to deal with the lack of agreement. I would very much like to create such a manifesto if it fulfills the usual purpose: A declaration of principles used by revolutionaries. In the literal sense it is however no more than a passenger or goods manifest of a vessel. But as it seems my goals are too high for my co-revolutionaries. They want to find consensus on a list of functions that would unambiguously make a product ACM and to this end rather reduce the functionality spectrum to exclude BPMS features. Additional capabilities are then to be seen as nice-to-have because lacking them would not reduce the ‘adaptiveness’ of the solution. The DCM Wave of Forrester Research just lists BPM vendors with case management functionality.

Keith Swenson proposed that simple definitions of teams, folders, goals, records, security, and communication will provide the ability to replace email as collaboration platform: ‘I would like to see ACM be a clear definition of the ability for a case manager to take on and complete goals, collaboratively, with history, and reuse of previous case patterns. Deployed not as a solution development platform for the IT department, but instead as an infrastructure that replaces email. An ACMS has to handle content. An ACM has to keep history, but process mining is an extra nice to have feature.’

He proposes that ACMS and BPMS require different skill sets and different people, which is correct if BPM is seen as a flowcharting design paradigm. BPM is for me the same ACM work activities guided by very strict rules and dependencies, which could thus be shown as flowcharts. Knowledge work is in difference to BPM guided by customer outcomes, goals, constraints, events and most of all user skills. ACM is the higher level capability and offers expanded process controls, more empowerment for the user and an embedded improvement paradigm. Keith suggests to call the combined ACMS/BPMS functionality APS or Adaptive Process, which I proposed as an option two years ago. At the time I wanted to make clear that an Adaptive paradigm offers much more opportunity than just runtime modifications by users.

Karl Walter Keirstead in difference proposes that ACM should possess BPM capabilities. He lists as a minimum feature set a repository (archive), a GUI to allow users to create work tasks (structured and ad-hoc) with resource and people allocation, background constraints and compliance checking, management dashboards and back-end data connectivity.

Do we focus on sales or on business needs?

I agree with both Keith and Karl Walter that all of their ACM features are necessary, I just take a much longer and more customer outcome oriented perspective. I interpret Keith’s stance as a ‘let’s-not-rock-the-boat’ attitude that is understandable from a typical marketing perspective while it could limit innovation! It is as if Steve Jobs would have said: Let’s NOT design a product that interferes with current markets for mobile phones, MP3 players, navigation systems, and handheld computers. Let’s carve out a niche that doesn’t overlap so we don’t have to compete!’ I have also been criticized for quoting Steve but like me, he focused on making things that already existed really easy to use. He simply removed the apparent complexity for the everyday user, but not by dumbing down what the user can do. Exactly the opposite. He put not less but MORE functions into the same device! I too want to put more functions for all business hierarchies into ACM and not less!

So how can ACM be further defined?

While I am working on a larger paper on the subject and also on a book, I have decided to post some of my thoughts to further the discussion and to invite feedback. This is not the final version and while I would have wanted to wait, it makes sense to collaborate on this as Keith requests. I propose however that we need to define the fullest functionality and then each vendor can define, which subset of features he wants to cover. I suspect that most vendors might not like this approach if they can’t have all the checkmarks. I nevertheless defined another perspective that segments functions into Model, Discover and Adapt requirements. I group features into three ACMS types: basic, full and strategic. Remember, this is a thought exercise only.

ACM Business Activities for Model, Discover and Adapt

The Model segment is functionality that is required to create the essential models that allow the business to define how it wants to describe its work. A Basic ACM system will have most of those pre-coded. If not, the models are created by architects. The Discover segment deals with functionality that business uses to create the actual processes. The Adapt segment is used by management to guide the knowledge workers. Some functions are overlapping and I put them where I see the most benefit. This is a very subjective definition of what I know about the market. I would make Change Management mandatory but not all products possess this and it is an IT management function. Remember, this is a first idea how to structure this.

What would be the business benefit of a lesser definition? If a business wants just a Basic ACM functionality then they know where to turn even if they know that there is more. If a business decides for a Strategic ACM solution then that does not mean they have to reorganize or change the company culture as has been suggested. Not all departments have to use all functionality. I have said many times that I don’t see that the software should restrict or force the business in any way. Exactly the opposite! The ACM platform must allow each business and department to work as they see fit to achieve customer outcomes and avoid the failure demand and increased costs that process standardization would cause.

10 Comments on “Adaptive Case Management: Basic, Full, or Strategic?

  1. Excellent post, Max! I get the feeling we will be linking back to this one in the future, and I am honored to be featured/quoted in it. Also, looking forward to your book.

    The way you present this as basic, full, and strategic is great. As you know I am concerned with defining precisely what must be included to be called basic, but of course many systems will have much more than basic. Rather than a single dimension, I think there are going to be 4 or 5 specialized directions that we can defined … more or less grouping your strategic features in ways that make sense to have together, and that we see particular kinds of knowledge work needing.

    I would take some issue at being categorized as not wanting to rock the boat. I am perfectly happy proposing disruptive new approaches and as you know I have been doing that for a couple of decades. Instead I would describe my current efforts as “being inclusive”. I don’t see it so much as “I have a cool idea” but rather that there is a big shift going on and accurately identifying the real trend. There are hundreds of innovative products. They are all different. I am not happy to just pick one and say that is it. Emerging out of all the change is is a set of capabilities which will support knowledge workers.

    People keep asking me “what is ACM precisely?” Right now, anyone can claim they have an ACM product, and many of them are mistaken. It is not that they are lying, it is just that they truly are confused. I want to be able to come up with a set of criteria, that a system must do X, Y, and Z, and then if it meets those criteria that it is an ACMS. Those criteria would be related directly to what a knowledge worker needs (at the basic level) and not based on a particular example of what I think is cool technology.

    I am mindful that there are two separate things we are talking about: ACM which is a method of supporting knowledge work within a department of knowledge workers, and ACMS which is a system that support them in their tasks. ACM itself is recognition that knowledge work it unpredictable, and therefor methods based on predicting a process will not work, but in fact there are other more relevant and workable approaches.

    Keep up the good work. I think we are getting closer to a consensus and can come out with a manifesto soon.

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    • Thanks for the comment, Keith. It is hard to express how I feel about your focus on not treading into the BPM grounds. So maybe I am a bit tough on you. No disrespect intended! I obviously know that you drive innovation, but it must not just disruptive but rather also saying when things aren’t working and that they need to be improved. That does not always come across well and yes it is better to be inclusive and cooperative when it is warranted and beneficial.

      I still believe that the real big trend is a lot more than ‘Basic ACM’ because that’s where the upheaval with BPM is and where – most of all – the biggest monetary benefit is for any business. If they can get a handle on the knowledge work that links strategy with execution it worth millions to any business.

      it would be a pity if ACM is seen as no more than a support tool and I really do not mind who claims to be in which market fragment. I want to bring out the understanding in terms of improving process management. That’s where the biggest confusion is. People don’t care about market fragements. They want to know what works, how and why!

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  6. Hi,

    Extremely useful article, thanks very much. What is the best way of requirements elicitation for an IT system which needs adaptive case management. Currently, we are looking at several options: creating process models (but that probablmy meand BPM), use cases (but they fall short of projective the adaptive nature of processes), user stories and user journeys(look simple but again no idea how they help in depicting the adaptive nature). Would be great if someone could share their experience on what has worked best for them. Thanks.

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    • Thanks for reading and commenting!

      ACM cases/processes are usually not designed up-front. That is the adaptive nature. They are derived from well defined business objectives, customer outcomes, financial and operational targets that link to process goals. So the work is goal-oriented and tasks are assigned to work towards goals. Such task lists can later be reused to create a mind-map (process) for achieving the same goal again, but it is not a hard-coded flow. Performers can still modify the goal-template until the customer reports a satisfactory outcome. Constraint rules are used to ensure compliance to internal and external regulation. If such templates are better or worse is judged by the process owners based on achievement of the objectives and outcomes.

      I hope this helps. It does require a different mindset than orthodox BPM which lives by the illusion that a certain sequence of steps ensure an outcome which is falsely copied from manufacturing.

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  7. Appreciate the quick response. The approach that you have suggested does make a lot of sense and gives a fresh perspective to the way requirements should be captured for ACM. Thanks very much!

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