The Texas Two-Step of BPM and ACM

No, I am not hinting here that BPM and ACM are dancing with each other, rather that in ‘Mastering the Unpredictable’ we dance the Texas Two-Step: a quick step left (ACM is new), another quick step lifting the right heel up (it is more than BPM), and then a slow slide right (but BPM is ok too). Yup, it is really three steps, but the heel lifting isn’t really stepping forward, so it’s called Two-Step. Some say there is a fourth shuffle step and we do that a lot when discussing ACM’s relationship to BPM. I am no dance judge – despite my ballroom dancing past – so let’s not get into all the ways the Two-Step can be danced ‘correctly’.

In MtU everyone dances around those questions, saying that BPM is good, but that it is not good enough for knowledge workers. We try not to step on the toes of all the people who make a living selling BPM in all its various methodology and product incarnations. We are also still dancing around the question what ACM really entails (I have at least tried to define it more than once), but there is not yet an agreed upon definition out. The vendors that rally behind ACM are really very different in terms of how they implement it. It shows that we all agree on the existing problem with BPM for knowledge work, but we have different ideas of how to solve it. We seem to agree to enable users to adapt tasks, data and messages. I have proposed three paradigm shifts and the five elements of ACM – data, content, rules, goals, and GUI. That lack of definition of ACM is the reason that I use the term ADAPTIVE PROCESS, which is a superset of functionalities of ACM and superceedes BPM, CRM, ECM, and a few more TLA’s. I do propose consolidation and not integration.

Source: Pucher (2009) The Five Elements of Adaptive Processes

Whenever the discussion starts there are those who try to enlighten us that BPM ‘is not about technology’ and ‘not about flowcharts’ but it is a management concept and a methodology. Some call it a practice. In these times I would call BPM common sense management. It is no longer new or a mystery! We are rather going backwards with BPM to Tayloristic management concepts. Is there really anyone left in a management position in larger than SMBs who does NOT KNOW what the idea behind process management is? If yes, he/she shouldn’t be there. And once someone understands the acronym does he really need more than a day to understand what the idea is and how to implement it as a management approach? There are numerous books that will tell you how to do it. So many different BPM approaches have popped up over the years from inside-out, via top-down, to bottom-up, so clearly we need now outside-in. Why does anyone still need to be consulted on the principle approach to define work into process structures with real-world handovers, a focus on customer outcomes, assigning owners and empower them with goals, authority and means – and OFF YOU GO! It doesn’t take an Einstein to conclude that these ought to be aligned with business strategy!

I think the reason for all this consulting is that no-one in management wants to be left standing when the music stops (it seems we are dancing musical chairs). Many BPM projects are hidden manpower/cost reduction schemes and no one wants to be the bad guy. To me BPM is not a magic discipline but rather employing common business sense, that anyone with half a brain can understand in a day. Yes, we all want to improve how we work (meaning how we do processes), with less waste, clear goals and all necessary information. However, in these times the discussion of BPM without software is totally ridiculous. IT is the one and only core competitive means if businesses know how to use it. Why would anyone even think about doing process management without software?

What is wrong with the idea of BPM as implemented in many BPMS, is that huge amounts of time have to be spent to analyze process flowcharts that the people then have to adhere to. That does really come from BPM as a methodology. Only a small percentage of work (20%) might be that stable. During the ACM Tweetjam I tweeted that ‘Process is not an assembly line!’ and Connie Moore of Forrester Research retweeted ‘Agree, agree, agree!’ (Phew, I am not alone.) Businesses no longer want those complex analysis projects and the rush to buy Sharepoint despite all its shortcomings, rather than large ECM suites,  sends a clear message to all of us.

The most popular fad is now to buy drop-in process packages for BPMS to speed up implementation. That is fine but now new. Businesses often buy ERP because they are buying the hardcoded processes to improve the way their businesses work, lacking the skill to do it themselves. That is all the hardcoded processes a business can survive. Encoding more processes in BPM is not beneficial.

I give you five good reasons:

  1. Business is about people and not about processes and control.
  2. People are about relationships and not about performance oriented pay.
  3. Good business relationships bring value to everyone – customers, employees, and owners.
  4. Open communication is the only way to improve relationships (not a CRM DB …)
  5. IT is the only tool to improve communications in an enterprise.

So why would ADAPTIVE PROCESS technology be better than social E2.0? Business communication is not chit-chat, it must be about business entities. It empowers the high-level knowledge workers of a business by enabling the executive to communicate business strategy (in terms of models) to them. It aligns financial goals with process and budgetary planning. Driving processes with GOALS rather than flowcharts and mapping inbound and outbound CONTENT to them, supports the processes that generate new revenue (product and partner projects). ADAPTIVE technology with goals supports a changing business environment (i.e acquisitions) with ease. A key capability is to capture and share corporate knowledge coming from EXPERIENCE. Comprehensive communication about business entities in a secure and flexible manner allows individuals to bring their skills to bear in teams across the globe. As partners and customers can be securely participate in those processes, it improves communication and thus relationships.

Source: Pucher (2009): Empowering the Business User with Adaptive Models

Real-time process knowledge is the most powerful form of BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE. It enables actors to improve efficiency much more than historic analysis and raises the productivity of individuals and teams. But ADAPTIVE is not about anarchy or chaos as it enables tight control where needed. Compliance to privacy regulation cannot depend on after fact verification of adherence (to i.e. HIPAA). The same is true for budgetary planning that while giving more authority, must provide real-time alerts and verification of expenditures that are not aligned with spending principles. And while being not advisable as a key business driver, COST does remain a core financial aspect that must be monitored and made transparent on and across all levels.

Is cost cutting by BPM automation really the only answer to increased competition, less loyal customers, and less predictable business cycles? There are those who propose that it is possible to increase revenues, improve service quality and at the same time reduce costs by means of various magic methodologies and technologies. Yes, cutting costs is the easy way out to make results look better. But it is dangerous too. BP was cutting costs while oil well drilling in the gulf. In the long run that damages any business, which is why the next CEO will have an even harder time to pull it up from it’s sick bed using the same old snake oil. For BP that might be too late.

Well, you might say, A FOOL WITH A TOOL IS STILL A FOOL on any level, so no amount of technology will save a weak CEO. True. But the greatest of people WILL BE held back by the bureaucracy of methodology and by those hardcoded processes made for low-cost, unskilled, and simply replaceable staff. No, I am not making this up! Agile, flowcharted BPM or hardcoded ERP processes may have cut costs, but they don’t make a business more competitive despite all the claims to the contrary! HP commissioned Coleman Parkes Research in February and March 2010 to look at how current IT budgets were spent and how organizations estimated the cost of lost time, effort and opportunities due to innovation gridlock. Of 560 interviews, half of the business executives said that 40 percent of budgets are spent on mission critical systems, 30 percent on legacy systems, and only 30 percent on new IT initiatives (of which half fail or underperform), which prevented their organizations from keeping up with the competition. If executives  don’t understand IT and its power, they are like old generals who fight all the old battles again despite a change in war technology. And clearly, they will loose!

There isn’t any proof that a business gets longterm benefits from analytic BPM and complex BPMS implementations. Technology must allow processes to evolve to any structure they might need at any point in time without bureaucratic overhead. The focus must be not to cut cost, but to make the best people (knowledge workers) the most productive and effective. The most important knowledge workers of a business are at the top management level. This is where IT still fails to deliver business value.

9 Comments on “The Texas Two-Step of BPM and ACM

  1. Hi Max,
    good post
    What do you think of this summary?

    Focus on cost reduction and the result is a decrease in quality, customer relationship and as a result less revenue.

    Focus on the goals of your relation (e.g. customer, employee) and your company, quality of service & product and the result will be a decrease in cost, increase in customer satisfaction and revenue.

    With BPM you get the 1st as BPM is all about Cost Reduction as its goal is to fit the knowledge worker in an assembly-line style of work which works only for the small amount of repetitive work.

    With ACM we strive for the 2nd where we support the knowledge worker with a goal oriented approach, providing the data and content and an adaptive UI to be able to communicate with the relation in the most effective way, without putting the knowledge worker in a straightjacket or process assembly-line, whereas the business rules providing the legal and company boundaries.

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  2. BPM is about aligning processes with the organisations strategic goals, designing and implementing process architectures, establishing process measures systems that align with an organisations goals and educating and organizing managers so that they will manage processes effectively” (Harmon)

    There are lots of excellent definitions by Harmon and others. It is an umbrella term for a a business philosophy that is supported by an increasing number of tools complimentary tools.

    Who says Business Process Management (BPM) is all about cost reduction? You don’t need BPM to do cost reduction because BPM is about so much more.

    BPM is about managing processes. What you do with the processes is another story. Need to be more efficient or effective? Need to respond to your customer faster? Better throughput?

    And yes, reduce costs too after you have understood your processes and made them more effective and efficient at the same time

    The whole point of BPM is to include all the tools and techniques that help in the managing of processes.

    There is room for ACM here too. Process Mining and ACM overlap and are complimentary. They intersect with process modelling and Enterprise architecture.

    The sum whole is greater than the sum of the parts in BPM. There is no need to reject other methods when they can make our favorites even better!

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    • Goerge, thanks for the comment. I appreciate it. I have head it all before. BPM is a worn out record and badly scratched. Yes, BPM is about improving the way a business works and it requires a huge bureaucratic effort that is linked to the ‘Measure to Manage’ fallacy. BPM is about control. Adaptive process is empowering the business to evolve to its sweet spot.

      The question is how do you do it TODAY. Yes, BPM has moved from simple definition of work steps and handovers to targeting customer outcomes. And all that is good. But it is an outdated approach, especially when it starts with a huge analysis effort to define flowchart processes. It is the analytic approach to ‘understand processes to improve’ that is at fault. The problem is worsened by the complexity of integrating BPM, ECM, CRM, BRM, BAM, and BI by using MDM, EAI and SOA and so on. And then it still has to link to strategic planning such as Balanced Scorecard and reporting systems. This is why executives say that IT holds them back. Yes, IT has turned into a disabler.

      Adaptive process or its kin ACM (focused on knowledge workers), take into account that economy and business are complex adaptive systems that evolve. Therefore there is no analysis and definition of process flows. What is modelled is not the flow of activities but the all the business entities, so that business users can simply interact with them and create free flowing, goal oriented processes that adapt to be as dynamic or rigid as needed, all without flow analysis.

      We will have to agree to disagree, Adaptive Process does not need room in the BPM domain, it will replace it.

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  4. “Yes, cutting costs is the easy way out to make results look better. But it is dangerous too. BP was cutting costs while oil well drilling in the gulf. In the long run that damages any business, which is why the next CEO will have an even harder time to pull it up from it’s sick bed using the same old snake oil. For BP that might be too late.”

    Max, interestingly, the problem at the drill site might have been caused by the drive to cut costs – but it was also caused by a *failure* to follow prescribed processes that ensure safety. It wasn’t that those processes weren’t necessary or didn’t exist: they did. They simply weren’t followed or were overridden by decision-makers on site. Not a failure of process so much as “knowledge work” in this particular case. Bad judgment call in a culture of cost-cutting at the expense of safety equals a disaster. The reputation of BP in the US within the oil industry was pretty bad before this disaster happened- because it was (sadly) well known within the business that they felt BP was shirking its safety procedures and maintenance.

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    • Scott, thanks for the comment. Yes, also the drilling operation is knowledge work and safety procedures are a part of that. It points clearly at the problem of what management puts as priority on which goals. The project manager had a great reputation within BP (and the operating companies, which are US) for keeping the costs low. So it was not a bad judgement call, but management clearly saw cost as more important than safety.

      Some boundary rules that would have sent up red flags might have worked, but I guess they would have been turned off. A fool with a tool is still a fool. Technology doesn’t make more intelligent, it might actually be more demanding because it provides so much more information that can be misinterpreted.

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