A look back at the pre-social days of 2011 #BPM #SocialBPM #BPMFuture

2016 has arrived, giving us a great opportunity to look back on how far we’ve come in the world of business process management and social technology. In the past five years, we’ve watched as social technology changed the nature of organizational expertise, as well as the way people and work are managed. I’d like to take a moment to look at what we discovered about business process management. In a nutshell, what do we now realize was social or anti-social about how business was done in 2011?

Discovery #1 – Visio process maps were anti-social

Putting content into self-contained data files like Visio, PowerPoint and, sadly, many other BPM tools fragmented data and prevented transparency, collaboration, distribution, education, participation, and feedback. Sure, you can add SharePoint to the mix as a central storage facility, but you haven’t centralized data. So people created a single, hierarchical process map as a result…but created other problems.

Discovery #2 – Hierarchical process maps were anti-social

Most process hierarchies were built on the premise that work is done as discreet activities that can be rolled up into aggregated tasks, and further rolled up until one reaches the highest level of process that fits in a large, brown box called “conduct business”. But there was a significant problem with this. Once you finish, you had large number of diagrams in an enormous map that, just like a folder structure, didn’t allow for easy and intuitive navigation. Many BPM systems were sold on the promise of being able to map everything this way but in reality, the end result was expensive, fragile, and not easily deployed to the masses that needed to understand and use it. What people didn’t understand and use, they certainly didn’t contribute to.  Process maps were anti-social.

Discovery #3 – Complex notation was anti-social

Complex notation languages that were IT-friendly (and business-unfriendly), were a key part of an expert system create by and for process experts.  Those experts formed a small part of an organization. The content wasn’t ‘live’, didn’t have owners, couldn’t be shared easily, understood readily, and commented upon. It was anti-social by its very nature of requiring training (Evidence:  Unlike ‘end-user’ languages such as English, it must be versioned). Its use for anything beyond analysis of and preparation of opportunities for automation was anti-social.  For the typical end user, it looks like this.

(Aside: The automation use case versus the human-centric use of process was explained very well in a BP Trends article by Chevron’s Jim Boots and Editor Paul Harmon, “From process analysis to employee job aids.”)

Discovery #4 – Process frameworks were social

The APQC Process Classification Framework became a classic example of ways to mitigate the challenge of anti-social process hierarchy.  Used for its intended purpose, the PCF showed end-to-end process regardless of functional silos and regardless of each organization’s unique structure or mapping quirks. People used the APQC PCF’s naming structure to ‘cherry pick’ activities that when strung together, created a value chain that was common to all enterprises. It was used to give meaning to otherwise discreet activities and was used to benchmark against other industries. The ‘social-ness’ of using the PCF to encapsulate the value chain became obvious, as activities gained a context that was outcome-based, not work-management-based.  This higher-level context meant greater transparency, collaboration, distribution, education, participation, and feedback.

Discovery #5 – Social needed a structure to drive value

Social technology by itself was interesting, but began to deliver real value when it was applied to tangible business outcomes. Because social technology offered a chance for so many more people to be educated and brought ‘into the loop’, systems that gave a clear end-to-end view of the value stream were most positively affected. Business process needed to be mapped, for sure, but acceleration took place when people could visualize end-to-end process on their own terms and in their own language.  Only then could they follow, learn, share and contribute to business process–AKA ‘be social’.

Discovery #6 – Many attempts to make BPM ‘social’ were marketing gimmicks

There was a significant marketing spend to show how social technology could bring about collaboration and enable a broad audience to participate in business process and its improvement. Tools that were analyst and IT-friendly attempted to bolt on social technology.  In the end, though, the technologies that survived were the ones that reached the masses quickly, accurately, in the organization’s own language.


Categories: 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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5 Comments on “A look back at the pre-social days of 2011 #BPM #SocialBPM #BPMFuture”

  1. Matt Green
    July 20, 2011 at 8:50 am #

    With respect to number 6….which ones survived and are growing?

    • July 20, 2011 at 9:45 am #

      I would hate to be too partisan…but there are a very,very limited number of BPM applications that allow for ‘live’ viewing of governed content that is stored in a centralized way and deployed to everyone in plain English…

  2. July 20, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    Excellent post. A related post is: http://social-biz.org/2010/10/31/anti-social-bpm/

    The problem we run up against any discussion of Xxx-BPM is that the term BPM is so widely misunderstood. If you talk to the IT / SOA community, BPM is simply a way of visually programming protocols between servers. You need only read the latest BPMN spec, and the way it is tied to BPEL and includes specifics for sending and receiving data, as if that was a fundamental part of business. Those people *know* that BPM is a type of programming, and there is a huge body of articles and blog posts that support this.

    However, the rest of us are struggling with how to support an organization (a.k.a. business) and coordinate intelligent people. I think there once was a group that called this BPM, but those voices are lost in storm of analysts who say “if it does not have BPEL it is not BPM.”

    I wish you all success you deserve in repositioning BPM, as the “new BPM” that finally addresses human needs, but all those shortcomings listed above are “essences” of BPM, and talking about BPM transforming will, I believe, simply confuse a large part of the public, particularly the ICT segment. Regardless, you have quite a few good posts here.


  3. July 20, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    I like this: “The problem we run up against any discussion of Xxx-BPM is that the term BPM is so widely misunderstood.”

    As I describe it, the Social BPM you see will depend on the foundations on which it was built, i.e. how you define BPM. Just as a house built on round foundations will probably be a round house and another built on square foundations will be a square house. Here’s to BPM, or whatever we call it, that addresses human needs!

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