The Knowledge Between Your Ears

I have spent this weekend reading Janelle Hill on workflow, Jim Sinur on ‘Design by Doing’, Alexander Peters on COEs, Connie Moore on BPMS, Keith Swenson on ACM, Sandra Kemsley on CM, and I find an ever wider spread of opinions and perceptions on the future of BPM.

I believe that the current discussion about the future of BPM methodology and software is not on the right level. It should not be about flowcharted process versus flexible case management or adding social networking to process. It could be a discussion of political and social aspects in free markets driven by either consumer or the vendor. It must be a discussion of change being driven by evolution or by change agents. In the end it is a discussion about the role of technology for competition and innovation. Therefore the whole bantering going on about (Social or not) BPM versus ACM (Adaptive Case Management) is missing the point. Executives will need to make a decision how they want to enable knowledge and innovation in their businesses. Using BPM — in terms of designed processes — is  financially focused and only interested in customers and employees in terms of revenue and cost. Quality is measured in how accurately those processes are executed. Current BPM approaches are thus at best exploitation but never exploration/innovation in the diction of James March. Businesses live in the illusion that innovation can come off Taylor’s BPM conveyor belt. They use Kaplan/Norton’s Balanced Scorecard that tells them to manage innovation, but leaves me wondering how innovation can happen with people being tied down by BSC processes.

Yes, one can look at process management as Tayloristic and case management supporting Drucker’s knowledge workers, but Peter Drucker also said that ‘You can’t manage knowledge. Knowledge exists between two ears only.’ Consider that IBM states in a 2008 study that the majority of innovative ideas come from employees, customers and partners. So how would you manage the stuff between their ears? How would that experience get encoded into rigid processes to be managed as corporate assets? Even the most flexible case management scenario will not extract that knowledge into rules and procedures. There are BPM proponents who say that using structured process should be seen as experience encoded into process flowcharts during analysis. I disagree, because a rigid procedure that may have worked in the past is not goal oriented. Experience is actionable knowledge gained by an individual and is not something one can copy. Applying experience happens by people at each singular activity towards the goal.

Can we be sure? Yes. The higher you go in the management hierarchy, the less predefined processes you will find, need and be able to work with. Otherwise, why would one need management and executives? What if executives themselves could layout a capability map, create a set of goals, list the data entities that they want information on, link it to the content that describes their strategy, pass the requests to the assigned process owners, who then assign activities to the experts and everyone can watch it happening in real-time and make changes as it happens. Now that is a sensible goal for technology and it has been mine for over ten years.

Only businesses who managed to use technology as an innovation enabler are shooting past those that control IT and/or processes by using governance, centers of excellence and best practices. Each day a business does not innovate it falls behind because the economy is a six lane highway and the speed limits are going up each year. If you stop to execute lengthy innovation processes to figure out whether you need to go straight or exit, you will get run over. Missing the right exit will cost you time and money. Businesses take thousands of those decisions each day and the more of these are automated, the less does a business consider direction in relationship to outside conditions. Evolutionary change can’t be encoded into idea -> invention -> innovation processes. Innovation happens every minute between our ears.

Some IT encoded decision making is motivated by the illusion that past statistical data can be used to predict the future. Also that is no more than a crutch for inept management, lacking the guts to use intuition or the experience to take the necessary decisions. I propose that the only way to improve both understanding and decision making is to offer a real-time perspective on what is currently happening. You watch and steer NOW, because the past can’t be undone, no matter how well you might capture it statistically. The future can’t be enforced or predicted regardless of how well the outdated statistics fit under the bell curve. It all comes down to using experience in the light of current knowledge.

While Enterprise 2.0 proposes to empower people in real-time by copying social networking benefits from the Internet, it is very questionable that this might actually work. The reason are social networking demographics as for example reported by Forrester Research. In a department of a hundred people there will be just a few to actively write blogs and wikis. One cannot force people to share knowledge and experience is even harder to share. Corporate politics also stop people from sharing knowledge willingly. So typical social network activity will do little to improve processes or provide better real-time information.

Process structure is acceptable if it can be chosen to be applied at any time, but it must not be a limitation of the technology. While a business will have to follow some rules and adhere to regulation such as HIPAA, it must be the business’ or business user’s choice of how to do things and that at design- and/or runtime. Should the business choose to limit that flexibility for a certain type of process, or even just for a single instance, then that must be possible too. The legal requirement to document a process refers to the actual instance/enactment, but does not mean all processes have to the same.

I don’t care what analysts end up naming it, but businesses need a navigation system for the economy highway with real-time traffic information. The important element is a change in the DESIGN paradigm that is missed by ‘social’ proponents. It is neither simply socializing during the BPM design phase, nor is it adding social communication/collaboration to a pre-designed process. The social aspect is what we defined in ACM as ‘moving the process creation into the execution.’ Here my previous definition of Adaptive Process with a clarification in regards to process creation:

“Adaptive process technology exposes structured (business data) and unstructured (content) information to the business actors of structured (business) and unstructured (social) organizations to interactively create, modify and securely execute – with knowledge gathered during execution – structured (process) and unstructured (case) work in a transparent and auditable manner.”

I still propose to drop the rigid STEP&FLOW BPM model, enable the ACTORS to create/modify the process transparently at any time by adding DATA/CONTENT, set GOALS as targets, add RULES as constraints, and define PRESENTATION to their needs. If all of that can flow back into the template, then the whole becomes ADAPTIVE. Social networking tools do not enable any of the above, so I don’t understand why someone would think they can be used to create/manage/change unstructured, unpredictable processes/cases. The key of ADAPTIVE is that the actor may get some suggested activity, but he can take another decision (given the authority) and his acting is recorded and he may even be prompted to explain his decision. The gathered knowledge is reusable in the template and available to other actors, but it will never be turned into hardcoded knowledge that replaces human intuition.

The complexity of current information technology leads consultants and analysts to propose that IT has to be rigidly managed as a business resource only and is ideally outsourced or ‘cloudsourced’. This approach certainly kills inhouse innovation. CEOs and CIOs will need to become technology savvy and understand the immense power of change potential that IT can create if it is not held back by bureaucracy. Change and innovation is pulled forward by the gravity of the fitness landscape of your organization and it is created by people enabled and empowered by technology. The only alternative is buying outside innovation and the IT merger mania we see, is the simple proof for my previous statements.

I propose that if executives chose to manage by orthodox (BPM) process management, they chose to ignore the knowledge between the ears of the people that count — their employees and customers!

10 Comments on “The Knowledge Between Your Ears

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  2. Max

    A very good and thought provoking post as always. I also feel that all the discussing around “dynamic/adaptive” “bpm/cm” (subtitute with your preference) and which approach around the modeling convention etc. misses the point.

    In my day to day interaction with clients I don’t find them arguing the case (pardon the pun) for which type of BPM they require. Most of them don’t even know BPM. They just want to get work done. And in many cases, as you mentioned, the higher you go in the organisation the more it relies on the experience and judgement of those involved in the “process”. It relies on people making decisions based on contextual information and what they have “between the ears”. The role of technology in this context is to “support” rather than “prescribe” this process.

    Great article

    Pieter

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    • Thanks, Pieter. It would be great if we could finally focus on enabling the ‘business intelligence’ between the ears of users and not try to find it in statistical illusions.

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  3. Max,
    As always, an interesting post. One statement jumped out at me – about senior management understanding the notion of loosely defined process much better than line management. It fits what they know about their own jobs, and about the more valuable parts of the business.

    I think that may be some of the reason behind the way analysts are trying to position tools for managing unstructured, unpredictable processes as the next rev of BPM (which for me is sort of like describing as a car as an accessory to an engine) – most are technology analysts and they don’t talk to senior business management.

    At best they talk to the CIO – not the CEO, CFO or COO. What they don’t understand is this “adative process” stuff is what really connects IT to the business at the executive management and knowledge worker level. This type of technology is the CIO’s chance to really become a business executive, instead of a technial executive.

    Jacob Ukelson – CTO ActionBase

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  5. Pingback: Process for the Enterprise » Blog Archive » Max J Pucher on “The Knowledge Between Your Ears” and Some Thoughts about BPM

  6. Hi Max,

    Really good post. I completely agree with most of what you’ve outlined in your post. And your take on the future of BPM lines up pretty squarely with where we (Forrester) see things going.

    However, when you explore the different pieces individually, “The future of BPM” does seem to be fragmented and disconnected from the whole; disconnected from the vision you laid out for how BPM (strategy maps) might support executives.

    Indeed, we are now seeing many cases of executives (CEO’s, COO’s, CFO’s) using business process as the catalyst to completely transform their organizations.

    My specific passion is to help them accelerate that transformation and innovation throughout the organization. And there are many different tools to pull from the toolbox to help accelerate transformation and innovation. Ultimately, we see many of the components you discussed – ACM, social BPM, etc. – as tools, techniques to help firms accelerate transformation. But these tools are not replacements for transformation/innovation.

    Where our views seem to diverge is around how social might be used in the context of runtime processes. At runtime, we’re seeing customers tap both internal and external social networks to help end-users with making decisions. Social in this scenario just becomes another data stream for setting context for making good decisions. This is definitely an emerging area, but we are seeing good case studies evolve.

    Right now , the industry – analysts, evangelists, vendors – needs to do a better job of connecting the different BPM fragments into a whole story that executives can understand. To me, this has always been the challenge with BPM, and it doesn’t seem to be improving. It seems the story is becoming more difficult to convey to the average CEO.

    Cheers,
    Clay Richardson
    Forrester Research

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  9. I have never seen “BPM” as having any restrictions as a “discipline” that focuses on supporting people at work; the challenge has been IT’s abject failure to support? I was practicing “BPM” long before this “TLA” was created by “IT” going back to the 70s; it is surprising what you discover talking to people!

    The key to progress is transfer of knowledge. Remaining “between ears” adds little to enhancing the work place. People need to have the confidence that their ideas are not just taken seriously but have possibility of being implemented. Sadly IT has created a culture of fear of even asking for change so a big disconnect has been created between the actions that people take to create new information and the quite prescriptive systems supplied by the vendor’s as their version of how to run your business or custom coded with associated nightmare! In both cases change is “discouraged”.

    This is the arena that I see “Enterprise Adaptive Software” will sit to start to change the culture to the one Max’s describes. It must be outcome based, reflect how people work and put build and change into the hands of the business. It requires a rethink of the architecture away from the “function” driven components which have evolved over the decades and remove coding to allow users to both understand and contribute to improving their work environment. With such “empowerment” comes measurement (not to be confused with the corrosive target culture) which allows all involved to see results at real time so the “between the ears” activity can contribute quickly to solving issues that arise.

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