Process Evolution between Order (BPM) and Chaos (Social)
There is this ongoing debate about BPM versus ACM. I could be partially responsible for it, because of my opposition to all-out-flowcharting as an ACM advocate. Let me say that I am not focused on this debate, but on discussing the mindset and management approach behind it. I am not worried about market fragments or selling points.
Strangely enough there is nowhere near the debate on BPM versus Social, despite these being completely opposite perspectives on how businesses achieve their goals. But because Social isn’t a direct threat to the BPM paradigm, it is being sold as an add-on to partially fill the huge functional holes. If you can’t fight it, JOIN! Keith Swenson, Anatoly Belchook, Michael Poulin have all written truly thoughtful and relevant coverage that promotes the necessary ideas and thinking. Which doesn’t mean that I agree with them in all aspects. That is good, because agreement stops progress. Disagreement enforces a further exchange of arguments and creates the dynamics that furthers all our knowledge and understanding. I therefore don’t understand why some people are upset that I honestly say how I feel about flowcharts. Even Forrester recently used a straighjacket image to depict BPM! Come on, deal with it. Admit that you – as I – could be wrong. That is a true sign of greatness. Only the ignorant are certain, Einstein said.
Bureaucracy can’t be used to reduce bureaucracy!
The same applies to BPM in principle. Once everyone agrees that there is a right process, progress and innovation stops. Governance will be checking if the process is executed as designed, but hardly ever if the process is still right until the business numbers start to go deeply south. But that is way too late and it can’t be solved by predictive analytics either, because the models are built on the same measurement illusions. We all know that there is no budget for innovation as long as the numbers are ok, even if the trend isn’t good. No one knows if it is a momentary, seasonal dip of the curve or the start of something bigger. ‘If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it’ also applies to BPM. Hardly ever is there a visible causal link between outcome and process in BPM that drives innovation. BPMS don’t have goals defined and KPIs aren’t goals. Some methodologies focus on outcome for process creation, which is already great, but it usually stops there and doesn’t provide another means to innovate than bureaucracy. Don’t forget that when you put bureaucracy in place it will be used and grow! Bureaucracy will never optimize itself, as we can see from our governments.
The only solution is to go real-time with the customer. Not real-time with empty social chit-chat, but about goals and outcomes. Give each customer the opportunity to communicate one-to-one as you execute the process. When I suggest this to CIOs, they say that they wouldn’t know how to integrate such real-time, one-to-one data into the incredible sinkhole of predictive analytics! Now you can add Social to BPMS, but then what is the benefit if the actor cannot change or expand the process to improve the outcome. And what about the next time? You want to wait for a complaint each time? The improvement for future executions should take place right away without needing to go into statistics and bureaucracy. You will need multiple, optional templates to achieve the same goal and not just a single process for all kinds of customers and situations.
Anatoly Belychook says that they have a three week process improvement cycle despite the necessary governance. Cute, but irrelevant. By far not the industry average either. We will publish a Forrester Consulting study in the next couple of weeks to that respect. The problem is not one of how quickly can you change, but WHO changes WHAT, HOW and WHY? BPMS flowcharts are only predictable, because that’s what they are made to be. The processes they show are not predictable from the outset and cannot be defined by analysts without interviewing the actors who perform them. So what is wrong with letting the actors and process owners create and innovate processes themselves as we suggest in ACM?
Not everything we do is a process – as Michel Poulin says – but we can look at everything as a process after it is completed, as Keith points out in his post. Every process (activities to meet a goal) is unstructured or unpredictable before we do it the first time. We then might decide to repeat it in a similar way because the outcome was good. Process! If we can’t figure out a repeatable flow then we remain unstructured. Social! But if we define that the perceived outcome is what process is about, then everything we do in business is a process! If we define that process is only what we can shape in repeatable flows then at best only 20% of what a business does will be BPM. Social and email can be used to execute processes too, but if there is no defined goal and outcome then it is just information exchange.
There is one undisputable distinction between BPM, ACM and Social. BPM has a heritage as a management methodology that structures a businesses in a particular way. BPMS technology was then developed to support those management concepts and from day one they focused on flowcharts and creating predictability in execution and cost. The BPM methodology requires a governance bureaucracy, because the users who execute are not the ones to define or influence what is to be executed. Social and ACM are in difference technology-driven and focus on the users. There can be no Social ‘Methodology’, while there are some checklists what to look out for. But you can’t do Social Media without technology! The same is true for ACM as you need the technology to empower people and to create transparency.
Social BPM is still not ACM and here’s why:
Unfortunately, not all ACM proponents are focused on architecture and data and that is one of the problems that ACM faces. It is also the difference to Social! The Activity Streams concept mixes REST into the social chit-chat to add process capability. I am not impressed yet. Anatoly says that ACM pundits like me (a radical who pushes change because I critize BPM …) say that ACM technology can be dropped-in and does not require any IT involvement. I have never said so, but I know that other ACM proponents use that as a selling point. I say that the creation, modification AND innovation of the processes must not require analysts, flowcharts and IT! That is very different!
But analysts, architects and IT are still needed to define the ACM infrastructure ONCE, because a business architecture and a master data model linked to services (i.e. SOA) is needed to perform business relevant activities. Michael Poulin suggests that ACM is also BPM because of it. I don’t agree. In ACM a business user can pull up a service task and drop it into a current case or a future to-be-used template and it has nothing to do with upfront flowchart analysis. If new data or services are required, obviously IT will be needed to supply it as a user library element first. Is therefore ACM a BPMS? No, but it encompasses similar elements to achieve goals and outcomes.
But yes, I do say that most BPMS won’t be able to do what ACM can provide, but ACM can implement processes as rigid or as social as required. And it can mix BPM and Social in any manner and doesn’t need a Twitter-like chat to do so. So ACM can replace BPM, but not vice versa. Clearly that can change and I predicted that over a year ago. There are a number of BPM vendors who have added the ADAPTIVE buzzword to their marketing brochures, without yet adding software functionality. But eventually they will. Will that turn them into ACM? We’ll see. I am convinced that only adaptive process capability will survive in the long run.
What about management and company culture?
Anatoly further suggests that if business users are empowered then they would rather create a comfort zone for themselves rather than improving things for the customer. That has nothing to do with technology, as it is purely a people management issue. The same thing happens without software. Seeking comfort is human nature, but if people feel responsible for the customer and have direct contact they will find a balance between both. It is the cost cutting perspective that doesn’t want employees to feel comfortable. But I rather be serviced by someone feeling comfortable than someone who executes a rigid process and doesn’t care! BPM or ACM don’t solve management weaknesses and if they are used this way they will fail. Peter Drucker said that management and technology must complement each other and CO-EVOLVE!
Additionally ACM enables BOTTOM-UP TRANSPARENCY for the process owner and proper coaching of the actors can push outcomes in the right direction. If the customer can directly voice his satisfaction as part of the process execution then Anatoly’s argument is mute. There is no danger of actors not servicing the customer well and no one noticing. Transparency is also TOP-DOWN by defining and linking strategic objectives, business targets and process goals as visible and actionable entities in the processes. That enables a key ACM element that Social and most BPMS miss: GOAL-ORIENTATION.
Anatoly – like most BPM proponents – is a die-hard control freak (no offense, but you know how outspoken we radicals are). There is a lot of scientific evidence that shows that intrinsic people motivation and empowerment works well without even considering ACM. I have listed the scientific evidence in previous posts. There is the perspective of business and economy being Complex Adaptive Systems with evidence that self-organization always works better in the long-run than rigid control structures. Google is a pretty good example of such a business. There is also evidence that technology empowered businesses are more dynamic and innovative than others. There is no evidence that the same is true for BPM controlled businesses. There is anectodal evidence that BPM is good for short term cost cutting.
Social and ACM are both enablement through technology, which BPM is not. BPMS won’t happen without governance, but Social and ACM need rather guidance and have to be employed by a business with the right management culture. Social simply provides the technology and hopes that emergence will do the rest. That is fine in the Internet but not necessarily within an enterprise. ‘Build it and they will come’ doesn’t work there. Both Social and ACM require that the business employs related management styles. Company culture more than anything will decide whether BPM, ACM or Social will be a success or not. Ease of process creation and innovation for business users will certainly be a key factor, but it is only secondary.
If you implement an ACM platform and apply too much governance (design flows), you get BPM. If you don’t govern at all (no strategy and architecture), you get Social with the risk of poor adoption. Evolution and self-organization happens ONLY on the border between order (BPM) and chaos (Social), but it needs the adaptive capability to succeed (Holland, Johnson, et.al.) My executive experience is that one has to control 20% of all activities with rules. That does not mean that 20% of processes must be rigidly controlled, but in the sum of all processes, 20% of their elements ought to be rule managed.
Therefore, most people still don’t understand what ADAPTIVE really stands for. Michael Poulin and others see ADAPTIVE as meaning DYNAMIC. Dynamic enables the business user to create or change CURRENT process execution. ADAPTIVE means that the business user can also influence FUTURE execution by various means, because only that enables INNOVATION and evolution. To manage that, processes must be guided by EMBEDDED goals and outcomes. Users can make changes to content, rules, templates, GUI or flows that are either explicit or implicit and either technology supported (i.e. machine learning) or manual. Some ACM can suggest goals or tasks or actors to be added to a case, based on patterns identified in the past. The responsible actor remains however always in control. That combined with the ability for users to accept those changes or not creates the chaotic dynamics that foster innovative change. But that does not mean NO ORDER, it mean just as much order as needed to achieve outcomes, but NO MORE and no bureaucracy overhead.
To achieve the natural dynamics of evolution in business, technology MUST NOT be used to restrict people, but it must be used to empower them. And to me ACM is empowerment technology that provides the necessary minimum of control but also the necessary guidance that is missing in Social. And even if you get tired of hearing it, but Peter Drucker already recommended this approach 40 years ago. We are simply finally providing the technology to support it. BPMS support Taylor (the 1920s) and ACM supports Drucker (1970s)! BPM is inhumane control and ACM is people empowerment. ACM is another paradigm that also offers a combination of the best of both worlds of Social and BPM. It combines the architectural controls with the necessary business controls and creates transparency up and down the management line.
The discussion whether ACM is BPM has no benefit whatsoever for the business! ACM is not a BPMS, because it does not require a governance bureaucracy but rather an open management style. Like a BPMS however, ACM benefits from well-defined strategy and architecture.