People Management versus Process Management

In recent discussions the proposition was made that my disagreement with BPM came from discussing people management issues in process management. While I totally agree that as an executive my focus is people management I propose that there should not be a process management perspective that does not focus on people. To bring the benefits of process management closer to the people requires today technology — just as with the Social Mobile Cloud — and not methodology. I am not living in a technology dream world, because as an executive I also deal with other executives and high-level management of the largest corporations on a daily basis and I see and hear their management pains.

They all struggle with one thing only and that is getting their leadership to transcend to the lowest management levels. BPM methodology and business architects can never do that but rather are its killer. They freeze management initiative and drive. No one likes BPM and no amount of training and enforcement makes the business do better. It just makes some numbers look better in the short term. Not only I see the dramatic consequences of the politics and the red tape that kills any creativity and innovation. In most businesses it is the least imaginative and least innovative people who propose, demand and in the worst case enforce a BPM approach. Could anyone believe that Blockbuster or Kodak could have been or Blackberry and HP will be saved by bringing in business architects and BPM? That makes me laugh.

Saved by methodology or by the right people?

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had no clue what people want from a Smartphone while Steve Jobs obviously did. Steve Ballmer believed their market analysis, while Steve Jobs said openly that market analysis and focus groups were the killer of creativity. And that applies to all levels of management and all kinds of work. People enjoying working with other people makes a business better. Closest contact with your staff and employees and a good connection with your customers and prospects makes a business better and helps to shape a better business strategy.

I have been told that my BPM criticism is invalid as I am not clear whether I mean methodology, technology, or the practice. Actually, I mean all three together but let me try to ensure that this smoke screen argument doesn’t apply. The need and resulting time and cost for all three as distinct requirements to make the whole approach even usable is a simple proof why BPM is a loosing proposition in the long term. A business thrives by achieving individual customer goals and not by executing rigid processes perfectly regardless of the outcome for the customer. BPM methdology and analysis is FAR, FAR AWAY from people who execute and even further away from the customer. A goal defined there is unbeknownst to the performer and most likely not what this customer currently really needs or wants.

BPM projects are justified by a further focus on using less workers and to replace the ones needed with less skilled ones. This will happen by default because skilled people have no interest to be used as ‘fools with tools.’ Therefore BPM has the unavoidable consequence of lowering the size but also the skill of the workforce in a business. Then you might have a poor process design and no one to see that it is actually so and no one to know how to make it better. The BPM bureaucracy — like all bureaucracies — isn’t close enough to see what goes wrong. They delve into BPM reports that only deal with deviations from the expected and not with customer satisfaction or effectiveness. The ideal process is blind to the unexpected …

There are no perfectly designed processes … Period!

Even worse, much of the logic —  regardless if flows or task conditions — needed for a process cannot be represented in Boolean logic at all. Human decisions are all emotional-experience-driven and not logical. Only reality-removed-intellectuals (imagine Sheldcon Cooper from Big-Bang-Theory) believe we can turn them into logic, but in fact and quite obviously they become inhumane by that very step. Yes, some boundary rules are unfortunately needed for compliance but also there you will find that only a human supervisor can verify that. Therefore there are only processes that have been decided to be sufficient regardless of being wrong or incomplete. For human interaction (aka purposeful collaboration or running a business) there is in fact no ‘fixed predefined realization of logic that provides the outcome if repeated in the same execution context.’ The context is nothing else than the goal to be achieved, meaning a customer outcome or a handover. BPM proponents blindly assume and then propose/claim that what can be done in the closed shop of a factory floor can be transplanted into the chaotic environment of human interaction. Yes, there are processes that need more or less experts, but there is no process that can be done without people who know what they are doing. It needs at least one process owner in the line of business who defines and works toward value goals!

A modern business is therefore one where all people are involved in producing value for the customer. As the target customer is an individual and only in a statistical illusion belongs to a certain demographic, quality is achieved by individual, non-automated service. That is the most effective and at the same time the most efficient. Centralized, fully automated service centers do not have a focus on the customer. They focus on reducing cost through standardization and automation. Rather than claiming that the service center frees up staff to focus on customers (which is hardly ever true) get rid of the internal-non-customer processes that you need the service center for. Spend the money saved to hire staff for actual customer service.

From the perspectives of customer experience, people management and workforce psychology the process environment must be so flexible and easy-to-use that people are willingly letting go of email and MS-Office. Why are these tools so much liked? Because they are independent of IT and ‘experts’ telling employees what to do. They are also the only means to complete the lacking processes. What ever you do in process management it will only succeed if you get business-user-driven adoption! Productivity and customer satisfaction is not about turning people into BPM-controlled robots, but people actually enjoying what they do. The more detail you force on them the more resentment you will get.

BPM architects can’t imagine that the people actually doing the job know what they are doing. But actually they don’t know the job required. I have not yet met an architect who knows how to run a business or how to manage people. And they shouldn’t bother. Architects — both Business and IT — just have to create an IT framework and environment that empowers the business and does not enforce process illusions. Architects can maybe design stuff, but the reality is that human interaction defies any architectural effort. One simply can’t design a process that involves individually acting agents, aka as humans. One can design a great product if it focuses on how people will use it. If all you focus on is making it cheap, your business will be the next Nokia and not the next Apple!

I am certain that a BPM center of excellence and its consequence of process-optimized service centers can be likened to a centrally controlled, pseudo-communist bureaucracy that will never improve the long-term prospects of any business in the reality of a dynamic, if not chaotic economy.

Welcome to the Real World – Outside the Matrix (ah, BPM)!

In the real world — meaning outside the BPM-illusion — there is only work to fulfill goals. There is no process or case and there is no distinction between them. The distinction is an artificial one created by a BPM perspective. That the other work can or ought to be managed through a more flexible case management environment only came up in recent years. I therefore propose that the BPM process control illusion ought to be thrown out because of its obvious drawbacks for a business, mostly in respect to people management. Processes are not a business asset. People are. The work these people do has to target goals and those deliver handovers and finally outcomes. BPM ought to simply define that and make it accessible in real-time, but instead needs a lot of bureaucracy by experts to achieve that. What I propose with ACM is too a form of BPM, but it departs from the the currently separated methodology, technology and practice because it consolidates them for business people.

ACM is different from BPM in that the performers always have freedom — unless it is explicitly reduced in some areas — to target a well-defined, visible goal. As they perform their work, their knowledge is captured within the case and can later be used to improve it. BPM is the opposite: workers are guided and controlled and in a few situations they can do a few ad-hoc things. In most situations however, the undefined detail is executed outside the BPM environment and lost. The whole point of ACM is to not even try to automate what can’t be automated but to provide the best possible support for the performer and create transparency and learning where non exists today.

Adaptive Case Management in my definition can perform everything current BPM TECHNOLOGY can, plus the indisputable need for business content. It provides a simple METHODOLOGY to define value streams as goal trees and guides otherwise undirected execution with constraints for compliance. All work can be described by business users and saved as more or less structured templates. In this manner it brings the power of a process management PRACTICE directly to the line-of-business. It provides top-down transparency for guidance and bottom-up transparency for execution without the limitations and drawbacks of the current state-of-the-art in BPM.

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.

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Posted in Adaptive Case Management, BPM, Business Architecture, Business Strategy, People Management
4 comments on “People Management versus Process Management
  1. “Adaptive Case Management in my definition can perform everything current BPM TECHNOLOGY can, plus the indisputable need for business content.”



  2. Maz Iqbal says:

    Hello Max,

    It occurs to me that here you and I face a paradox. Those who get that which you speak-share here (wisdom) do not need to hear it. Those who do not get it will, in all likelihood, never get what you speak. Your speaking will show up for them as gibberish.

    Recently, I found myself pointing out to smart people the following:

    a) Methodology should serve the human being not the other way around. And the logical end point of methodology, in all of its detail, is that the human being leaves his ‘brain’ at the door when he arrives at the office building. Which is to say turning work into process, in the way that the lean/BPM folks do, takes all creativity-flexibility-humanity out of the workplace. As such the world of work is dumbed down and made fit for the most stupid of all – computers which can only follow predefined algorithms: stick to the given script.

    b) That in the real world you have to put friction back into the world and deal with that kind of world. Yes, you can take friction out in the physics classroom and make the equations work – that is to solve them. And it is well worth remembering that in so doing one enters into the realm of fiction. Why did I point this out? Because I see this kind of ‘stupidity’ occurring all over the place and especially in the business and organisational worlds.

    My friend, I salute your wisdom. And find myself honored that our paths have crossed. I hope, that one day, our paths will cross and I will get to meet you face to face. Until then I acknowledge you and wish you the very best.

    at your service / with my love


  3. Dear Maz, thank you for the comment and your encouragement. I am too very glad that we ‘ran’ into each other. I am a consistent reader of your blog and your perspectives on customer service. We seem to be in full agreement in terms of the human element in doing business. We both seem to be fully aware that we are up against a notion of doing business that tries to remove or dumb-down the human element for a number of reasons.

    I want to point out that it is not just a financial business perspective that creates the problems we both point out but there is both a social and a political component involved, related to financial markets, their government encouraged behavior and their short term goals; political meddling with regulation to protect the workforce from its negative effects; and the consequences for how public businesses are run around the globe.

    All of this is utterly irrelevant to the ‘consultants’ and ‘experts’ involved in optimizing businesses through LEAN or BPM because they are non-system-thinkers who simply fill a market niche with services demanded. While that is fair trade in a free market, the same could be said for supplying illegal drugs.

    The war on illegal drugs is too a measure demanded by the financial market businesses and serviced by governments, similar to patent and copyright protection. There are deep structures of misrepresented cause and effect chains and in most cases these are seen inverted, where the effects of regulation are taken as a cause for more regulation and enforcement. But more about that in a future post.

    Thanks again, and yes I do hope we can meet in person some day.
    All the best, Max


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Max J. Pucher
© 2007-19

by Max J. Pucher. All rights reserved.

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