Adaptive Process and Empowerment

I am distinguishing now between Adaptive Case Management – which I see as an enhancement over Case Management and fills the gap to BPM for knowledge workers – and Adaptive Process.

Adaptive Process however REPLACES existing BPMS. It enables a business to combine a top-down strategy with bottom-up empowerment and avoids the reduction of adaptability and resilience that comes with orthodox business process management.

You might wonder what process has to do with empowerment? Businesses are complex social systems that adapt bottom-up easily, while it is a lot of effort to manage them top-down only to the last task. Therefore software that enables people empowerment in terms of processes could improve business efficiency (cost) and effectiveness (quality) without the upfront analysis effort of BPM. Transparency up and down the hierarchy passes goals and monitors outcomes. It means to accept AND UTILIZE the reality of emerging hierarchies and processes, rather than wasting a lot of energy fighting against them. Does that seem farfetched to you? Let me point you to the recent Fortune rating of the best companies to work for: This time the number one spot is for SAS – not the airline. “SAS is not only the world’s largest privately held software business — with revenues of $2.3 billion, it’s about the size of publicly traded Intuit — but also the paragon of perks. In fact when Google, was putting together its own campus freebies some years ago, it used SAS as a model. SAS has been on Fortune’s list of Best Companies to Work For every one of the 13 years, but this is the first time SAS is in the No. 1 slot.”

SAS is a great example of pampering and empowering the people that work for you. The fallacy of the BPM crowd is in pronouncing processes as a business’ most important asset, when truly it is people. You can also read up on an interview with Gordon Bethune – former CEO of Continental – on George Colony’s blog – Counterintuitive. It is all about how to treat employees, not about processes, cost reduction, shareholder value, or other nonsense.

I have been told repeatedly that human decisions can be automated because except if they are insane or emotional then a rule can do the same. Yup, that is exactly the fallacy of BPM and rule systems analysis and related process automation. And even if one could automate human decisions the consequences are dire, because they are not felt valuable and thus will either leave or simply turn into cynics. All one is left with is the worst of the worst.

But why is it impossible to automate human decisions and why will it never be beneficial in the long run? Frist, humans NEVER decide rationally. It is always emotional. It does not matter how much you might believe you decide rationally, it is an illusion. It is quite certain (Damasio, 1994) that humans without an emotional center can’t make decisions (one of the symptoms of EDS-Emotional Deficiency Syndrome). Gigerenzer/Selten (1999) showed in ‘Bounded Rationality’ that decision making is not rational but always irrationally intuitive. That is however not a drawback, but it enables humans to make decisions effectively (which also means efficiently in terms of time needed) with limited information. We never have all the information and actually less information is usually better than more. There is a long list of research starting with Kahneman/Tversky on decision biases to Deci, Edward and Ryan’s research on motivation that show (to me at least) that the human mind is far superior to rule and process automation in its ability to decide effectively with limited information. Human decision-making adapts to changes, while rules do not.

BPM ROI calculations do not consider the substantial reduction in adaptability and resilience in relationship to outside change once the cost, people or skill reduction is consumed. What about the long-term additional cost of innovation procedures and the cost of the introduced time-lag? Who accounts for that in terms of value? Nobody! Thus the financial consequences of BPM are not properly considered but basic one-time cost reductions are assumed to repeat.

The rule decision engine maybe will work well according to a model thesis. It will however be outdated the minute it is used because the business environment has already changed. Who adapts the model afterwards? The innovation process is so long that once the model is updated the world has changed again. And once the project is finished no-one will be able to maintain a complex decision framework, especially if it is INSIDE a complex rule set linked to a complex process set wired together by a complex set of canonical event-driven data interfaces. NO ONE understands these complex interrelationships and the effort to work with them is immense. You just KILLED the last bit of agility the business had! It is a tested-to-death-frozen-process-rules-data iceberg. No amount of methodology can bring the natural adaptability back that was traded for theoretical agility.

A process perspective for a business is good as long it is meant to create a common understanding of capabilities and outcomes for customers. Every step further towards controlling process flows hurts the business in the long run. If that is not so my dear BPM methdologists, ONE AGAIN please point me to the independent long-term studies of a large number of large businesses who are 80% BPM modelled and BPMS (for system) executed. Despite my long search I have neither found the businesses nor the studies.

BPM believers promote a concept that replaces the proven results with theoretical intent. I propose that the future is to empower people. Both Michael Hammer and TQM had this as a focus in the early 90’s! What happened?

  1. Hertwig, R., & Erev, I. (2009). The description-experience gap in risky choice. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(12), 517-523
  2. Schooler, L. & Hertwig, R. (2005). How forgetting aids heuristic inference. Psychological Review, 112, 610-628
  3. Dan Ariely (2008), Predictably Irrational, HarperCollins
  4. Damasio, Antonio (1994). Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain.  Grosset/Putnam, New York
  5. Deci, Edward and Ryan, Richard (1985). Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior. Plenum, New York
  6. Blanchard, Carlos, Randolph (1999), The 3 Keys to Empowerment: Release the Power Within People for Astonishing Results (Kindle Edition)

I am the founder and Chief Technology Officer of ISIS Papyrus Software, a medium size software company specializing in communications and process management. I wrote several books and hold a number of patents. My quest is to bring common sense to IT, mostly by focusing in human quality issues rather than cost saving, outsourcing and automation. I am also Chief Architect at VIPorbit software which provides mobile relationship management.

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Posted in Adaptive Process, BPM, Human Resources
3 comments on “Adaptive Process and Empowerment
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  3. […] ‘Measure to Manage’ optimization is counterproductive to improvement and innovation. Only empowered actors can use their intuition and experience for sensible action. The dynamics of the economy require a […]


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Max J. Pucher
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by Max J. Pucher. All rights reserved.
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