The Amazing Ignorance at the Core of BPM

Recently I had two very different experiences. One was a typical discussion with a process management expert on LinkedIN, who proclaimed like many before that because he has been successful in optimizing factory floors he can do the same cost-cutting automation for human interaction in the rest of a business. That unproven claim ignores everything that is scientifically accepted about workplace psychology, the dynamics of human interaction as well as the complexity of markets and its business entities.

He said: ‘Once you know what the right process is you can automate it and it does not matter if you use C++, Java or a flow diagram.’ As if it would be that simple to know the ‘right’ process considering the complexity of human interaction. He then pronounced that: ‘the worst thing that can happen when you use ACM is that two people would decide to create a similar ad-hoc process for the same thing.’ As if that would be the end of the world as we know it. This is what people do all day long without BPM and it makes the world turn! There is no benefit in enforcing the same dumb and inflexible process across the board for the sake of it but it actually costs a lot more to do so. As my whole blog covers extensively why I won’t repeat it here again.

What ACM enables a business to do is to capture these processes and either leave them as they are or empower performers to build libraries of reusable goal- oriented units of work that represent broadly the business knowledge. You can’t analyze that as much as that has been proposed. Both just using ACM for transparency or using it for building knowledge libraries have substantial benefits that are unachievable with BPM. But lets no longer bemoan the ignorance that is at the core of the BPM mindset.

Let me rather tell you about my other experience that justifies my proclamation of ignorance. I had the wonderful opportunity to watch a one year old play with two plastic cups in the bath tub. What has that to do with BPM you might ask but that is exactly my point: absolutely nothing. It is an observation about human nature that people who propose BPM are missing despite all the empty claims to the opposite.

The boy was sitting in the tub filled with just a little water. The water was running from the tap. He got hold of two plastic cups that were standing at the side. For the next half hour I was watching amazed all the things one could do with two cups, running water and a bathtub. I would not have thought of half of them. A child this age has no purpose or cares what is good, practical, necessary or useless. But after this short time he had tested all variations of filling, emptying, pouring, splashing, and more. It included pouring the water over his head and out of the tub. He did not get tired to try and try until he succeeded in what he could do. He also got cranky when things did not work as intended. Then he broke one of the cups but that did not stop him. He turned his attention to the faucet and discovered how to turn it off. He inspected the falling drops and tried to see inside where they were coming from. He managed to open the drain and watched that too with excitement.

I can only say that this was a humblng experience. Children are so adamant at learning and discovering. Their determination to get to the bottom of a problem and discover is immense. They come into this world with no preconceptions of good or bad, and right or wrong. The most terrible thing we can do is to tell them that there is only one right way. We truly know nothing and have no basis to be so incredibly righteous. Children learn that it is better to do nothing than to be wrong or make a mistake. But creativity and discovery thrive on failure.  See my post: The Value of Failure.

As I wrote in my 2003 novel ‘Deity’: ‘If parents would truly know more than their children then humanity would get dumber with each generation.’ Let me translate that to business: If managers, executives or BPM experts think they know more than the people doing the job, they are ignorant and arrogant. They won’t do the business any good. I thus propose that orthodox, rigid BPM is a crutch for incompetent management. A manager should be a facilitator for his people and not an enforcer. Successful businesses give their employees room to learn and discover and they know that fun at work translates to happy customers. People follow true leaders and their visions willingly without a BPM straightjacket.

The opposite is unfortunately happening today with the cost-cutting, optimization and automation madness. It already starts at home and in education and is nothing else than killing the core of human creativity and ingenuity. I propose that ALL children start out like that little boy. They all possess the same drive for knowledge, the stamina and the same creativity. Clearly there are differences in character but I do propose that they are minimal and they are needed for productive diversity. The rest is opportunity and experience.

I have no other way than this post to pronounce my disgust for the ignorance that drives people to think of nothing else than to use BPM to produce fools with tools. It is inhumane and has nothing to do with improving how a business works. But unfortunately this mindset already starts in our schools and therefore BPM is even taught at university. If you have not yet seen Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED talk on education you really ought to take the time. You will understand my point better and he is also very entertaining.

Albert Camus wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus:
‘This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart. The absurd depends as much on man as on the world. For the moment it is all that links them together.’

PS: I apologize for the post being publicized before it was online.

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.

Posted in Adaptive Case Management, BPM
12 comments on “The Amazing Ignorance at the Core of BPM
  1. […] The Amazing Ignorance at the Core of BPM /* […]

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  2. Thx Max for this important statement.

    And sorry again, that I link to a German written article wich underlines your statement:

    Für das Kind ist Spielen und Lernen synonym …

    Greetings
    Martin

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  3. The “methodology wars” will go on until there is a focus on defining and meeting objectives as opposed to trying to shoehorn a particular methodology.

    Case is the environment of choice because workers will not reasonably fail to follow structured steps where this makes sense but they need to be able deviate from structure by skipping steps, re-visiting already committed steps, recording data at not-yet-current steps.

    The focus needs to stay on meeting objectives, not following any structured protocols

    In medicine, you tend to find many ad hoc interventions at Cases as well as strict adherence to structured steps for certain protocols (to the point of invoking a formal “break glass” protocol of protocols where there is a deviation away from a particular protocol).

    In law enforcement, the focus typically needs to go to cases-of-cases in order to progress any single Case using connect-the-dots.investigative techniques.

    In job shop ops, one of the key performance indicators is success streaming resources across Cases.

    Different industries/different applications, same core operational environment (i.e. Case).

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  4. this is what you get for debating in linkedIn forums :)

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    • Scott, no one did get anything except my attention and time. This is not about the person or the debate but what it represents. It is neither new nor different, but just amazingly carries still the same ignorance about the real world.

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  5. spieltmit says:

    Your explaination is balm to my soul. I hope some day our antiquated school system will be changed for the good of modern society and the whole human race.

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  6. Maz Iqbal says:

    Max,

    I find myself in total agreement with you. Tops and those who serve them focus on control and so called efficiency. Thus they resort to standardisation of processes so that they can be automated. Once you standardise you take out the flexibility-creativity-improvisation that goes with human being. Not only do you create ‘fools with tools’ you create brittle organisations unable to respond to changes in context in a timely manner. d

    I wish you the very best.

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  7. kswenson says:

    Max, what you are up against is human nature. There is a psychological need to find order in things. The idea that something is unknowable is so disturbing that people would rather make something up, than to live with discomfort of having something there that they have not figured out. Along with that is a deeply held fear that if we don’t put rules in place forcing a kind of uniformity, everything will degrade into chaos. They simply are unable to understand the idea that stable equilibria can occur naturally out of a large variety of counterbalancing forces. These are a kind of arrogance, but I would say it is a “natural” arrogance that comes from the way the brain works. It takes a lot of wisdom, along with careful avoidance of these easier thought patterns, to make it to the place where you would like people to be. Getting mad at them is like getting mad at the lion who eats its trainer … their behavior is in their nature.

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    • Keith, thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, all of this is about human nature. Agreed. But I do not human nature as an excuse for the stance and approach taken by BPM buffs. The one thing I understand that it is not necessarily the BPM community that takes this view but that they deliver a solution to a need that exists in the market. There is a substantial amount of incompetent managers who are either in fear of losing control or have the arrogance of wanting to micromanage everyone.

      But what infuriates me are the broad unfoubded claims being made about what BPM does for a business. It simply checkmarks that wishlist that every manager or executive has. And then this is sold as a methodology and software for huge amiounts of money and there is no time, money and resources left to do something that would really help a business.

      I am not mad at anyone, but I see no point in hiding my human response. ;-)

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  8. Great article though I think your title is maybe a little bit provocative. I’m not sure there is an amazing ignorance at the core of BPM. Choosing a BPM platform isn’t ignorant, it’s merely a compromise.

    The role of businesses is to organise resources with the goal of producing goods or services. To do this businesses put in place a collection of business processes. No business and by extension it’s business processes is 100% efficient. If it were then there’d be no competition. Businesses must make efficiency calculations and compromises every day. Choosing a BPM application is one of those compromises where the cost reduction obtained from having an automated BPM process exceeds the value of having a more manual, human driven, process. Sometimes, especially in more complex, unpredictable, strategic processes BPM will be the wrong choice.

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    • Thanks Peter. Thanks for reading and commenting. You know me. I don’t send subliminal messages. I say things loud and clear. It is either ignorance or intentional misinformation. Both is not appealing.
      I am not talking just about the BPM platform. That is actually the theme of my next post. I am talking about the intent behind BPM at large. It ignores the human aspect of both performer AND customer and thus the longterm management needs. The cost cutting is shortsighted. I do not believe in 100% efficiency at all so I am with you on this. I think that it is more important to be effective than efficient. Effectiveness is achieved by defining and validating goals and outcomes one on one.
      Business processes do not exist but they are an illusionary extension of goals to be achieved. Outside manufacturing those goals of human interaction are achieved by knowledgable people and not by enforced, optimized work tasks.

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