These days, many business related stories seem to be about our fast changing world. Although I still have the same haircut as 20 years ago, I assume there must be some truth in that.
Translated to process management you might hear terms like flexible, adaptive or agile. It all has to do with being able to change what you do. When necessary.
Probably you might hear or use other terms, but I always use the terms flexible and adaptable, to explain that there are different levels of change when we talk about processes.
Flexibility and Adaptability are not the same
BPM is about getting the right level of grip on processes. Some think that grip means ‘standardization’ or ‘force’ all cases into a predefined path.
If your processes have to deliver the same result for 20 years with no variations, this might sound ok, but that’s hardly the case in any business these days.
So, ‘right level of grip’ can also mean flexibility and let executors in the process have more control on what should happen instead of predesigning everything.
And that’s what this little story is about, because there are 2 levels of flexibility in processes that get mixed up sometimes, I think (as said, some might use different terms for it):
Flexibility in executing a process for one case (called a process instance)
The Adaption of a process to a changing environment (changing the process definition)
Never forget; Processes are about delivering results (about which you promise something)
As you might know; I often use the metaphor of traveling because a trip has a lot in common with a process. Both have a destination. In a process that’s called a result (product, service or solved problem). And that’s the thing to start with I think, because you always have to be aware a process is a means, not a goal.
A process is a means to deliver a result. The result is what counts; the process is only the thing that brings you there.
Back to travel; assume I am in Berlin and my desired destination is Amsterdam.
So Amsterdam is my result, but to be able to design a good process, I must also define what I promise about that result. That’s what I’d like to call the goal. That might be getting there fast, cheap, shortest route, least produced CO2, etc.
Based on this result with goals, I can design the characteristics of my process (plan my travel).
Flexibility; being able to change during the execution of a process
Assume the travel can be made by train or by car. You can imagine both offer different flexibility to the traveler.
If I designed a ‘train process’, the execution will be quite standardized and not really flexible. The train will bring me there fast, but if something happens (tree on the track) I am not able to take an alternative path because I, as executor, am not in charge of the process (the train driver is).
So when everything is predictable during executing, such a process is OK and reliable.
In software, (traditional) workflow systems can support these types of processes.
When more flexibility during execution is needed, using a car might be a better idea. I, as executor, am in the lead. I can decide to take another road in case of traffic jam. I can speed up if I like (taking the risk of not being compliant with laws anymore). Of course, in real life there will be boundaries , but it is more flexible to reach my result.
In software, case management systems might be a better support for these kind of processes.
And is software really important in that? Maybe, but mostly are empowered, result aware, employees supported with useful information to base their actions on.
So flexibility is about the way to take alternative paths in a current process design (getting in Amsterdam fast). In that case, the result is more important than executing a standardized process.
Adaptability; being able to change your process design.
Above is all about flexibility in a current process design. But assume my processes were always designed to bring me to Amsterdam fast. But nowadays I want to get there cheap (it’s still crisis…) . So, the environment changed. Can my processes adapt to that?
So adaptability is about being able to create new process designs. It’s not about the non-flexibility in execution a process, but about being able to design new processes.
If travel must be cheap now, but my processes keep on delivering ‘fast’ they will be running out of sync with my environment.
Back to my travel to Amsterdam. Assume I designed the current process by leasing a very fast (but quite expensive) Bugatti Veyron for 6 years. I can get there fast in a flexible way.
But now, because of changed circumstances, I want to get there cheap. Unfortunately, my process is ‘stuck in the lease term’ , which means I cannot adapt easily (for example by buying a fuel economic diesel car).
And that is what adaptability is about; being able to get rid of my old process and develop new process designs. Talking about software again; you can imagine that if your current process is ‘hidden’ in billions lines of code, how fast can you change your processes?
So standardization and flexibility are just ways to execute and manage a current process.
Adaptability is about being able to change processes so they keep on fitting the wishes of their stakeholders.
So even very flexible processes might deliver things nobody wants because they are not adapted.