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.