Friday, May 13, 2016

On nice castles and managing processes

When you walk through Process Country, you might hear stories about BPM, workflow, Adaptive Case Management and Process Mining. I can imagine you might think; what do they all have to do with my day to day processes? 
I think they all have to do with managing your organization in a process oriented way. Be aware that "by process" is just one way to manage your organization, but as processes are ‘the things’ to solve problems (by their results), having more grip (or better; the right level of grip) on them might be a good idea. 

In my opinion a process oriented way of working, should start with thinking about what results (products/services) solve the problems of (future) customers. And yes, to deliver those results, processes are executed. 
You can see it as making a trip. Before starting a trip you (at least business wise, probably not private ;-) should know where you want to go to, or better; what problem you'd like to solve. In case of traveling that could be something like "I'd like to be at another place and the problem is that I'm not there". 
Then you have to decide a lot of things. The route, the best way of transport, best time to travel etc. Translated to a business process, this means that processes need many aspects (often called ‘enablers’) to perform. You need good people, right information, supporting tools and a smart route to follow.
Focusing only on the route (in process terms, called the workflow) is too minimal to understand what is needed to make a process perform. But this workflow is most of the time the skeleton of the process to talk about. So a process; at least you will follow a route to that destination. But, this route might not always be known upfront and there might be smarter routes, so pack your backs and ….
 …imagine you ended on the top of a hill somewhere in Europe. You realize that you are some kind of lost. But then, when the fog disappears, you see a beautiful castle on another hill, a few miles away. You decide that your desired result is 'being at the castle on the other hill' and you need a walk (a workflow) to get there.
But, between you and the castle there is a very large and dark (some would call it scary) forest. But, as always, you are lucky. Just before you want to start walking, a man comes out of the woods. He says he came from the castle and says he is called ‘mister structured’. That is why he has written down all the steps he took to reach the hill you are on. Although the man looks strange with his long jacket and pointy teeth, you trust him and follow his notes in reverse order.
Turn left at the big stone, follow the little path between the oak trees for 1 mile, cross the river at the wooden bridge and finally you reach the castle.
This was a trip that could, in process terms, be called ‘workflowmanagement-style'. All the steps are done, the result has been reached, but as individual executor you might have no clue why you are doing things.  It’s good old ‘Taylorism’ and is still suitable for some types of processes. And in our current world of ‘social’, ‘transparency’ and ‘co-creation’ there are still a lot of people that ‘just want to do their job’ and don’t care about process at all.
Back to the hill. What if you didn’t meet the man with the written instruction and had to start walking without his route map as a guide?
You just start walking and during the trip you will run into several things you have to cope with as they happen to you. So, you walk miles along the river to find a bridge, hide 45 minutes for an angry bear.  But your walk still has a desired result, so now and then you climb in trees to see where the castle is. After conquering several hurdles, you finally reach the castle.
In process terms, this trip could be called a process of the type ‘Adaptive Case Management’ (ACM).
There is a desired result (in ACM it’s often called a goal), but there is no predefined route. So, during the trip you continually decide what is the best next step. This is seen in processes where knowledge workers (actually I don’t like that word) have to solve problems for several cases, but where every case has its own unique problems and characteristics.
Talking about more cases; assume that there are also other people that want to reach the same castle but base their decisions on their individual experience and apply their individual knowledge.  Some are good swimmers and don't search for a bridge. Others carry an axe and cut some trees to create a path, etc. Depending on their situation they make different decisions and all create their own route.
This ACM style of process management might scare you, because it seems uncontrolled. But that is just how some processes work. It needs trust in your knowledgeable employees instead of micromanagement.  And yes, more control might be possible and needed for some processes, so back to our trip.
What if all these ‘knowledge travelers’ had GPS trackers hidden in their pocket? When you collect all that data, you finally end up with a lot of data about all the followed routes. You can use this data to find out what routes and what decisions had the best results. In this way the data becomes information. 
This way of ‘discovering the followed routes’ is what could be seen as what is called Process Mining. Process mining is a technique to discover ‘hidden processes’ out of big pile of data in the systems you use to execute your processes.
This information can be used to formalize some routes and then we come to what I would call ‘normal process management’.  Most processes are executed several times a week/day/month and might perform better if they are managed as a process.
If 20 people have to reach the castle each day, it might be useful to hand them over the best route known at this moment. In that case even the execution of a process can be supported with a so called ‘Business Process Management System’. Trip wise this can be seen as satellite navigation.
You use the satnav to set your result (the castle). Then you have to be aware that (in my opinion) there is a difference between process result and goals set for that. Because you decide if you want to reach the castle fast, the shortest or the most touristic. That’s depending on your organization strategy.
The satnav (BPMS) will then act as a guide during the execution of a process. It shows you if you still meet your goals (you will arrive at 10:25) and can even warn if you are not compliant (flashing sign that you are speeding).
The more flexible satnavs can even help you to find alternative routes when unexpected things happen (tree on the road).
Conclusion: As you can make trips in different ways, also processes can be managed in different ways depending on their desired result.
So I think the BPM community has to stop with all those workflow vs ‘normal bpm’ vs ACM fights and help organizations to decide what ways of steering will support their processes best.
So thank you for joining me on my trip, but don’t forget the real message of this story.
Although it has some natural gravitation, don't start discussing a process with its route. In my opinion it is better to start with the discussion if the result you are talking about is worth a process at all.
You remember that nice castle? That castle was situated in the city of Bran, Romania. And then you probably know that being at that castle is not such a desirable result at all. All the people that made the trip wish they never did it as they all ended with two little holes in their neck.......
 Happy processing!

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