Facilitating Social BPM

The following is a guest blog by APQC’s Manager of Open Standards Research, John Tesmer.

I’m pretty sure that conversations about process have been happening in some form since caveman times.  Back then, social BPM was something like grunts about the most effective ways to sneak up on a herd of buffalo.  Professionals of recent times standing around the water cooler aren’t much different, except they’re dealing with receivables or manufacturing line problems instead of dinner.  As the pace of business has increased and those water cooler discussions have moved to the social tools du jour and across organizational boundaries, it seems like things have gotten a little…complex.  For example, if I’m talking about some cool new way to decrease working capital requirements by changing my accounting processes, how do you know the scope of the processes I’m talking about?  What if we’re talking about two different things? How much effort is expended getting onto the same page?

Enter the Process Classification Framework (PCF), APQC’s open standard taxonomy of business processes.

One of the main values that organizations extract from the PCF is that it enables discussions. It defines an open standard language which individuals and organizations can use to discuss all kinds of processes. It reduces the time spent storming around how to talk about something. It makes discussions about process possible in a simple, clear, and efficient manner. No longer do folks get blank stares when describing a process to their cohorts – they can point at a document now, one developed by an independent third party – and show someone what they’re talking about, and how it fits in a bigger picture.

Having a clear reference to what everyone else is talking about reduces those awkward moments where people want to ask questions, but don’t know where to begin.

Organizations that have already made some headway into defining their processes

can keep their internal operations confidential while still getting feedback and leveraging the goodwill of the process community by referring to the PCF in their inquiries.

That discussion about working capital requirements and the accounts receivable process now has some structure: the accounts receivable process as defined by the PCF includes activities from establishing AR policies to posting AR activity to the GL.  The structure and context defined by the PCF start to resemble a Rosetta stone:  I map my processes, you map your processes, and now we have a common language and can have an intelligent discourse.  You can link to the PCF in your social conversations and reference the index

numbers to quickly identify the context and structure of what’s being discussed.

Nothing to lose

So here’s my call to action: take a look at the PCF. You don’t even have to register to download it.  Try to incorporate it into your conversations about process, both within and outside of your organization.  Let me know what you think of it, and how we can improve it for your needs.  See if it helps. If it doesn’t, what have you lost?


Categories: Frameworks, Future of work, Social / Collaboration

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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17 Comments on “Facilitating Social BPM”

  1. June 6, 2011 at 6:02 am #

    Why is this considered an open standard? It seems to be hidden behind a members-only paywall.

    • June 6, 2011 at 6:11 am #

      No, you can download it for free. No registration required. Please let me know if you’re getting prompted to register or anything.

      • June 6, 2011 at 6:34 am #

        Thanks, John. This is correct from my own experience.

    • June 6, 2011 at 6:43 am #

      Also let me take a moment to talk about some of the other features that make this an “open standard”.

      We don’t charge any fees for anyone to use this internally within their businesses. We don’t charge fees for the document to be used in books, or even incorporated in software. Nimbus has actually built a reference model based on the PCF. All we ask for is attribution and that you return a copy of your changes if any back to us so we can improve the document.

      We seek input and feedback from the community and actively (annually) release updates based on the feedback from people who are actively using it.

      We have a comment system on our website and an email address (pcf_feedback@apqc.org) where people can provide their feedback.

      About the only thing you can’t do with the PCF is release a copy of it claiming it as your own.

  2. Richard Welke
    June 6, 2011 at 6:53 am #

    This work (open or otherwise) would seem to follow in the footpath of many other normative business modeling frameworks. One of the first was BIAIT by Don Burnstine (ca 1978). There was also a German one, whose name escapes me, of aproximately the same vintage, that I believe became the basis for SAP’s initial (internal) process framework. More recently, we’ve had SCOR, VCOR, e-TOM and ITIL among others. There’s also the work by Ravi Kalakota and his services blueprint. The proposed PCF is reminiscent of this work; more BIAIT than some of the others.

    That said, what might be interesting is to take this and further develop it along the lines of SCOR where BPMN process models (or skeletons) were developed for each of the third-level process descriptions. This, for example, was done by TIBCO for the SCOR model. An open repository of these, with opportunities for participation and evolution might be quite helpful. I suspect you’d also see a lot of uptake from BPMS providers. This would, in a way, use crowd sourcing to evolve this framework in somewhat the same way that SCOR has evolved (but in their case, through member participation).

    But, as Sandy says, this doesn’t appear to be “open” in the traditional sense so taking this further might be problematic in terms of IP infringement. Maybe you should consider a “copy left” approach to the content.

    • June 6, 2011 at 7:28 am #

      Richard, thanks for the feedback.

      One of the benefits of this taxonomy is that we don’t prescribe BPMN specific “flows” which would dictate exactly “how” work should be done at the process or activity level within an organization. We keep our framework high-level. This allows companies to rely on the PCF as an “interface”.

      For example, you may DO your accounts receivable process differently than your competitors. That’s your competitive advantage. But you both do the same things… maybe in different orders, or implemented with different systems (manual, SAP, etc.). Just having a simple list of “what” is done is enough to spark discussion.

      That being said, we’re actually envisioning a catalog of cross-functional value-chain style process flows that tie together the higher-level process elements of the PCF into “horizontal” value chains. Lots of research and discussion has already happened in this space, but a common language to describe those flows would prove invaluable, we believe. Think along the lines of “procure to pay”, “order to invoice”, or “hire to retire”.

  3. Richard Welke
    June 6, 2011 at 8:00 am #

    @John – thank you for the reply. I agree that the current PCF is a taxonomy and ontology, not a process prescription per se. That’s also how SCOR, etc. began. But it also evolved to the next level that began to expose process (flow) models. That’s the nature of taxonomies :). Retaining servitization principles (initiation/response) should bode well in terms of continuing to deepen the taxonomy. But I do hope you (or your organization) find the means and way to permit open contribution and rights-free usage of it and its “derivative works.”

  4. June 6, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

    I am interested in your view of this structure as an inside/out vs. an outside/in view.

    To embrace a social view of our enterprises means a departure from the constructs of the heirarchy. Work activities and decisions will be much more federated. The concepts of “managing” will be radically different.

    Storming is an important component of group dynamics and in my experience no model can substitute or shortcut Tuckman’s aspects of teaming. While having a straw model helps
    It will not substitute for creating a common understanding.

    Sara Roberts has an excellent post on Cisco’s Collaboration blog. http://blogs.cisco.com/collaboration/the-qwerty-complex-un-jamming-our-organizations-to-thrive-through-change

    It seems we need the same rethinking about process.

    • June 6, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

      John should weigh in, but I feel that having a ‘starter kit’ that provides a way to initiate the conversations both inside and outside the organization has value. We can’t expect organizations to morph into a federated model immediately, and the APQC model is a familiar standard to begin the discussion. I like that better than asking organizations to thrash around until a critical mass of socially adept managers and workers is built. All new paradigms create new winners and losers, and a loser can be both someone slow to adopt or someone who adopts poorly and suffers disruption. The good news is that there is plenty of room for new ideas and ways to go forward in this topic.

    • Richard Welke
      June 6, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

      This is getting interesting!

      My view, such as it is, is that services are the embodiment of a customer-centric focus — the service should solve a PTBS (problem-to-be-solved) for the internal or external client. Contained in this is all manner of opportunity for innovation and sourcing. It really doesn’t matter where the service is sourced from (think services market, or mine or Darryl Plummer’s service repository). Taken a step further, an organization is a “platform” that combines internal and external services to uniquely brand and deliver an end-user service to a customer. This gets to the issue of core competency (those services that the organization does uniquely better) and non-core (those it should or does outsource).

      As regards the associated link, the focus here is on “agility.” Agility is a “sense-and-respond” phenomena. It requires both to work (else it’s merely “flexible”). Of all the pundits that have written about agility, the one that still makes the most sense to me is Haeckel. He recognizes that organizations, to be “truly” agile need to, in effect, create mini-businesses with semi-autonomy along with an organizationally-dictated set of “things we must do” and “things we will never do” as an over-arching form of coordination. He (Haeckel) goes on to a contractual view of how these sub-units interact (not much different than what is talked about by Keith Harrison Broninski in his treatment of HIM — Human Interaction Management systems — the extreme end of adaptive case management). If one wants a truly “agile” organization, then the sub-units (internal or contracted) must “choreograph” their interactions (rather than “orchestrate” them) using some form of contractual obligations.

      Service-thinking (as I interpret the PCF) doesn’t superimpose one style of thinking (or one form of service) over another. Rather, it’s how it’s effected that does.

      Fun stuff.

    • June 7, 2011 at 7:39 am #

      Elise, thanks for the link, it was a great read. I really like the QWERTY organization example. It also helps illustrate the reason that having a common language is important.

      I’ve used a similar example before when explaining the utility of the PCF. Consider this: a dictionary won’t help you craft eloquent prose; it will however help you to ensure that each chosen word is spelled correctly. You’d need a style guide or some other reference in order to take what’s in the dictionary and organize it into a useful thought or beautiful poem. No one (well most people) argues about the spelling of words or their meaning any more. There’s a common reference we can all go to and understand what it means when I say “taxonomy” or “ontology.” The storming around the definition of those words is eliminated, and we can begin having a conversation about what great things can be developed based on the meaning of words.

      Similarly, the PCF doesn’t prescribe a “QWERTY” organizational model. It provides the building blocks that organizations can use to organize themselves differently, while still understanding what they are dealing with. Using the “QWERTY” model, the process elements on the PCF are like the individual keys on the keyboard. If we’re sick of the traditional “QWERTY” arrangement, we can readjust them to suit our present strategic initiatives and needs, without having to spend a lot of time discussing what “Q” means and why it needs to be adjacent to “W”. Sort of like getting a new style guide and changing from a Haiku to a Sonnet. We still use words to communicate regardless of the style, just as businesses use processes to effect work and create value.

      As previously mentioned, we’re seeing more of a need for these “style guides” that explain how to take what’s in the PCF and organize it to solve problems, both general and specific. For example, for the specific problem of reducing working capital requirements, a business can organize their processes around some industry-specific best practices. Having a common language to discuss these things helps everyone overcome the initial struggle of focusing on the meaning of the individual words (processes) to instead focus on the entire sentence (the value chain, value stream, or cross-functional process, as it may be.)

    • June 8, 2011 at 3:35 am #

      Very good article supporting social + structure in the Harvard Business Review: http://s.hbr.org/al0Unl

      • February 16, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

        But @chris that article and “structure” bears no relationship to your taxonomy and its purpose. It merely expounds the idea of the socialization of applications, as IBM has been doing for a long time (for example). Am I wrong?

  5. February 16, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

    OH, I should declare my hand, I am not a believer in the slightest in what you are suggesting. That’s just more of back to the future of continuing failures in “knowledge management” and communities as has been generally the case to date. This kind of mental model is part of the problem, not the solution going forward.

    Walter @adamson

    • February 17, 2012 at 6:31 am #

      I’ve watched it at work (literally, ‘at work’) and it makes some sort of order out of chaos. The difference between personal and business when it comes to social is the requirement to get something done. Focusing attention and conversation on getting something done matters and doesn’t happen by accident.


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