My previous blog post caused once again quite some stir with various BPM proponents who feel deeply insulted that I do not accept their expertize in optimizing businesses. I am simply not into superstition. I am ok with Astrology though.
But as it happens there is a lot less uproar than there used to be. One of the reasons is — as I predicted five years ago — that the BPM community has assimilated the ACM vocabulary and now claims that one can do Case Management (CM) — adaptive and mostly not — applications with their BPM suites. Even analysts run ACM studies based on that premise. A BPM suite can mimic case-like functionality by renaming some parts accordingly. While some work performed in a case can be sub-processes or ad-hoc tasks thats where the similarities end. For me an ACM environment has to support explicit goal-orientation and validation linked to embedded data and content. ACM embeds the ability to design flow-diagram processes too. Most of all, ACM is a solution that supports a modern business and people management paradigm and is not stuck in 1910 and Taylorism.
In difference, the focus of case management is to provide containers of information for particular coordination requirements. As work progresses certain information content is gathered and can be used to make decisions. But case management systems require substantial coding to provide guidance to the user. Some types of case work such as investigative cases do not have any pre-configurable progression but they still would have clearly defined goals.
I do not want to get into a technical hair-splitting of differences but stay at the larger issues of running a business. Adding case management to BPM does not improve what BPM does for a business as it continues to ignore essential people management aspects. It is not making the creation and innovation of work any easier. Businesses solely thrive on continuous innovation and not through performing old approaches faster and cheaper. Faster and cheaper means less people and less knowledge and thus a reduction of the ability to change work in accordance with changes in the market. Even while you exploit process knowledge you need to be able to explore the new. And that is not achieved by CM functionality that exists somewhere outside a currently rigid process.
Is continuous innovation through failure really necessary?
Rather than scientific studies on workplace psychology and expert papers I have used the example of the Apple Appstore social network in the past. It is a verifiable proof of the success-through-failure approach. It provides an ecosystem of autonomous innovators who thrive through the power of evolution. The best apps will succeed, while many won’t. Steve Jobs himself failed multiple times until he succeeded. But when Apple was run by bean counters it went from an innovator to the verge of bankruptcy within a few years.
Quite obviously, innovation is not just inventing new successful products, but much rather a focus on customer value. Innovation must happen continuously on all levels, in the small and in the large, while not all innovation efforts will succeed. Soichiro Honda said: “Success represents the ONE percent of your work that results from the 99 percent that is called failure.” Tom Watson Jr. put it differently: “If you want to succeed faster, double your failure rate.” As an executive and manager you have to allow and moreover promote the opportunity to fail, which is diametrically opposed to perfect business processes as demanded by BPM or SixSigma. James March linked already in 1991 company politics and decision theory to knowledge exploration and exploitation. You most certainly won’t get your BPM bureaucracy to change from the idea of ‘the one perfect process’ to supporting innovation through failure just because you added CM functionality to BPM. I say that your only chance is to get rid of the BPM-optimization mindset in your business.
Knowing what does not work is often more important than what works. Often the difference between success and failure is minute. But nobody likes to share his failures, right? ACM enables large organizations to fail and innovate faster by ensuring that gained knowledge becomes transparent and reusable without needing a bureaucracy. It can even happen anonymously. An employee producing a failure is possibly doing your business a larger service than the one who did it right.
How to deal with complexity and the speed of change?
BPM, Six Sigma or Lean will not support, promote or provide true knowledge-from-failure innovation. Perfect and cheap processes designed by an outside consultant are stale and dead. Standardized processes in code-freeze kill the germs of infectious innovation! Giving the process owner authority to pursue assigned goals any way he wants as long as he achieves outcomes, operational targets and handovers is Appstore-like social empowerment needed for success. Autonomy is further a key element in employee (and thus customer) satisfation. Allow for a variety of processes and tasks to fail or succeed until the best ones sustain. For effectiveness you need to allow processes to be improved by the people who perform them. That is additionally the most natural and efficient approach to optimization. Governance should at most define the high-level business entities and ontology to reduce ambiguity but not nail down low-level processes.
Outside manufacturing, we deal today with a business complexity and higher speed of change, which makes it near impossible to ensure a business delivers customer value through rigid work instructions. However, knowledge workers — or small teams with an embedded process owner — listen to customers, translate goals into needed activities, and then execute based on their intuition, skill and experience. In the larger focus of customer experience they improve outcomes without flow-diagrams, Boolean if/then/else logic or Big-Data statistical predictions.
Yes, many people in large organizations don’t care today about outcomes because they are jaded by bureaucracy. But that is not their fault and the worst reaction is to kill the business dynamics even further in a spiral to mediocrity or worse bankruptcy. The ability to ADAPT (change future process execution through learning by doing) is very different to Ad-Hoc or Dynamic processes. Therefore adding CM to a BPM platform is simply a smoke screen and a ruse.
ACM is about empowering people to deliver autonomously value to customers while making effectiveness and efficiency transparent to management.