Welcome to the Real (IT) World!

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.

BPM plus CM is not Adaptive Case Management

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.


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