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, 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.

I am the founder and Chief Technology Officer of Papyrus Software, a medium size software company offering solutions in communications and process management around the globe. I am also the owner and CEO of MJP Racing, a motorsports company focused on Rallycross or RX, a form of circuit racing on mixed surfaces that has been around for 40 years. I hold 8 national and international championship titles in RX. My team participates in the World Championship along Petter Solberg, Sebastian Loeb and Ken Block.

Posted in Adaptive Case Management, BPM
18 comments on “Process Evolution between Order (BPM) and Chaos (Social)
  1. Mark Tamis says:

    Hi Max,

    I agree with your position, but I would like to take the discussion one step further – which in the end will reinforce the debate in my opinion.

    Social CRM brings in the idea of including the customer into issue resolution so as to collaboratively reach the desired outcomes – which I think ACM can provide an excellent framework for.

    I may be going off on a tangent here, and please correct me if I’m wrong – but what I’d like to see added to ACM is guidance or suggestion through the use of analytics not only on what the next step could be (wich template…), but also on which inputs should be united based on the context and the desired outcome.

    This could be which ‘experts’ to gather together through workforce analytics by analyzing a Rich Enterprise Directory, but it could also be mining unstructured customer interactions for insights and adding that to the input mix to guide collaboration and help people make more informed decisions – the objective being to go beyond the paradigm of documents and transactional data and to which template chaining worked well in the past.

    BPM relies on roles that implicitely have expertise linked to them. ACM has the same role-based approach, but I think there is potential to extend that with expertise and insights. The roles will still be necessary to ensure conformity, but we can improve outcomes by uniting the right people with the right insights at the right time.


  2. Hi Mark, thanks for reading and commenting. You are right in the sweet spot of ACM with your suggestion. Actors (participants, contributors) must not be a rigid element of a flow, but recommendable like tasks or goals. Some task types maybe already linked to a role or skill profile and the user gets a list of options to chose from.

    From my perspective, (and in Papyrus) ACM does not have an implicit role approach, but roles can be used the same way as in BPM or not at all. Every participant has to be assigned some role for security reasons. That can happen globally, through delegation or momentarily as needed. The role can contain skill profile attributes or additional skill information can be directly attributed to the person.

    Allowing to assign some work task freely to some person (which can simply be a question that is asked) does away with the need to add social chit-chat (such as tibbr) to BPM. On top of that it doesn’t cost additional as with most vendors.

    Thanks again, much appreciated. Max


  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bertromavich Reibold, Mark Tamis. Mark Tamis said: Process Evolution between Order (BPM) and Chaos (Social) by @maxjpucher #bpm #acm | I commented #scrm […]


  4. Hi Max,

    I like this post a lot…Over the past 18 months or so you have been one of the main reasons why I have moved away from a more traditional approach to BPM. The debate about is ACM a part of BPM or something different does miss the point, however, I do feel that ACM is something different, simply because a business sees BPM not as a method or as a way of thinking, rather as BPMS….That is a straight jacket…

    I do, however, still like the need for a real process in some instances (espcially processes that are high volume, simple and highly repetative). Because of this I do like the term adaptive process guidance. I see this as trying to match all the many good points of ACM and those which you raise, with the benefits of a more rigid structure approach to those high volumne processes….I wonder if that too will spark an argument as APG is different to ACM or BPM…I think it is, but it isnt….

    Great post again…


    • Thanks, Andrew for reading and commenting. In every business there is the need for some fairly rigid and high-volume processes. Absolutely! They can be either analyst-flowchart-designed or user-created and optimized in ACM.

      ACM can be seen as a kind of BPM, and so can Social and so can anything if someone wants … so can APG.

      It is the management paradigm that makes the difference. Either you rigidly govern with BPM or you use the power of co-evolution to create and innovate processes with ACM. Some assembly is required to get the business strategy and architectures mapped into the ACM infrastructure. That is not a must, but highly beneficial.

      All the best, Max


  5. kswenson says:

    Good post. It would be helpful if someone could draw a sharp and unambiguous line between these, but that seems not completely possible, and so the discussions will continue even though, as you point out, they are sort of pointless.


  6. Max

    Thank you for putting Social on the table – it’s an essential piece of puzzle indeed.

    I’d like to comment on your words against bureaucracy. For me it’s simply a division of labor. Considering a special mental activity of analysing how things are done and should be done in the best interest of customers, there would be some people that are better on that than others.

    Acknowledging this plain fact would lead to some form bureaucracy (preferably not to the extreme one). Pretending that all knowledge workers are equally good on that is like pretending that all people are equally strong at math or ballet.

    Yet despite my arguments that may sound as counter-ACM, thank you once again for your studies. The collision of opinions drives the progress – it’s pure Hegel’s dialectic. And BTW, I love the motto of your blog – politicall correctness kills.


    • Dear Anatoly, thank you very much for reading and commenting. I truly appreciate it.

      I am in total agreement with your point that not all people are capable of thinking in processes. Which is why BPMN as a flowchart paradigm is not well suited for business. There is nothing wrong with an expert coaching the knowledge workers and process owners how to improve their processes. I actually recommend that!

      If the process is adaptive, then all participants: actors, analysts, coaches, process owners, managers and even executives can interact where their interests and responsibilities are without sinking into a bureaucratic swamp. It is also what social collaboration is about. I just say that the collaboration must be about business entities and not just free text chat. And to create the ACM infrastructure those experts are needed anyway.

      So my point is to put the business and customers into the drivers seat and not the analysts in the bureaucracy!

      Thanks again for pushing the subject forward!

      Best regards, Max


  7. Nice post!
    This question is key for evolution of ERP (based on BPM) and the integration of social networks in the enterprise


  8. […] Process Evolution between Order (BPM) and Chaos (Social) – Max Pucher weighs in on the ACM vs. BPM vs. Social […]


  9. […] BPM and Social ACM Methodologies – Max J. Pucher The BPM methodology requires a governance bureaucracy, because the users who […]


  10. Excellent analysis.

    You point out that the flowchart is restrictive, encourages bureaucracy, and fails to support predictive behavior.

    Couple of options: dump BPM, or break the deadly embrace between BPM and flowcharts. We chose the latter:

    You shouldn’t need to sacrifice control for the sake of keeping your processes adaptive.


    • Scott, thanks. I also see Gantt charts as a great way to view/work with processes. BPM is a business perspective and shouldn’t be dumped anyway as long as it is being used to manage process goals and outcomes and empowers people to achieve them. Process flows can only enforce execution but can’t guarantee outcomes. So it is not just the viewing perspective that is relevant but the creation/modification/adaption principle used. The question is how does one empower people safely and securely and allows empowerment selectively where beneficial. Thanks again.


  11. Hi Max,

    I found this to be a very informative post; it’s good to see well-reasoned and rationale articles that encourage creative thinking without needing to resort to wholesale assassination of other fields of practice. For me, the concepts you espouse are along similar lines to Systems Thinking, that is, to encourage a move away from a command and control approach.

    In one of my previous roles, I was tasked with looking at an improvement to customer service; as part of that I was examining those standards that other organisations achieved that allowed them to claim “good customer service”. I looked in detail at the ISO9001 standard that many people had chosen to adopt, but its one key issue and therefore its conflict with the concepts adopted by systems thinking is that whilst it focuses on process quality, it doesn’t necessarily address the fact that if you put rubbish in at the front end, you’ll still get rubbish out the back. You’ll have just done it in a consistent way!

    I wanted to get management to tap into the huge resources they had available to them: their own people. Get those people dealing with customers day-in and day-out to identify the ‘failure demand’ and empower them to affect change. As you mention, do people really want to wait until they get a complaint before they action anything? That’s why things like average handling times in call centres are not a useful measure – they don’t measure how well the customer was dealt with. You can easily keep your AHT down just by picking the phone up and putting it down again.

    On the subject of BPM as a practice, I think process design works when you don’t look to automate absolutely everything, because it makes everything too rigid and ultimately the cost to the enterprise will constantly increase. It effectively attempts to remove thinking, engenders a no-trust culture because people must stick to process as opposed to focussing on outcomes, another thing you refer to in your reply to E. Scott Menter. That said, there’s a strong argument that the process metrics made available by a BPMS provide a much quicker way of identifying issues that affect the process as a whole.

    The real message for me in this article as a whole is that “disagreement enforces a further exchange of arguments and creates the dynamics that furthers all our knowledge and understanding”. I’d add a little bit to that to say “productive disagreement”, only because I’ve seen some practitioners of different methods continually fighting over whose method is right, getting quite personal at times, rather than looking to collaborate and learn from each other. The focus for people who get into those fiery debates is to win the argument, which results in the capitulation of one party, but in the midst of it all they’ve forgotten that at the end of the day, both parties are looking to deliver the same thing (at least they should be): something for their customers.




    • Nick, thanks for reading and commenting. Highly appreciated!

      The problem with BPM and metrics is the humongous effort to first analyze and create it and then watch the metrics to improve it. Flowcharts aren’t goal-oriented but completion-oriented. it is assumed that the completion ensures the outcome and thus effectiveness. In most cases all BPM looks at is efficiency and the outcome is lost in the process. I covered more of this in this post:

      If you ‘win an argument’ it usually means you have lost.

      All the best, Max


      • Thanks Max,

        The linked ‘effectiveness’ article you recommended is also a good read and has been tweeted accordingly! My favourite being “It doesn’t improve anything if you do the wrong thing in less steps”.



  12. Sergey Gorodilov says:

    Hi Max!
    There are several models of organisation development and life cycle from such of the famous authors as Adizes, Grainer and others. Though these models are old enough, but I find much help from them in understanding what is really happening depending on what stage of development the organisation is. The life cycle model in this case is much more helpful – it shows when and which management model is more efficient. And so these models can be easily adopded and used in certain situations. The Minzberg’s model of management is also helpful.
    When I read about BPM or ACM there is usually no information about the efficiency of their accomplishment depending on the stage of organisation’s development. But there is the information about how good it is in the world of chaos.
    But the lifecycle model has the advantage to show us when chaos begins and what organisations do to get over to become more efficient and survive. Yes, these models say what to do!
    But what ACM do say about it?
    So I find it today as a still technology without organisation lifecycle-based aspects of implementation. Today after a time of investigation of ACM I still see that the approach looks like meashuring the overall temperature in the hospital without a dependency on details and sying that it is good everywhere.
    That’s why first of all it seems to me that it is a good practice to understand management as more complex and creative than it could be described using the only BPM or ACM. As it fairly mentioned somewhere: management is art. It is in composition of vast range of approaches. And it is relly good if a manager thinks not only about one technology of doing things.
    This is my oppinion today mostly because I haven’t seen more systematic investigation of the subject like Adizes or Minzberg have done.
    What do you think about it?


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Max J. Pucher
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