The single biggest challenge to BPM is in the definition. The moment the arguments start, prejudices become clear and rationales begin to diverge. Blanket statements don’t apply because the blanket would have to be the size of Texas.
In his blog post, Social BPM Methodology: The Triple Oxymoron, Max Pucher gives us a great opportunity to look at the common assumptions that underlie arguments about BPM. Let’s start there.
Is BPM always about automation?
No. There are applications that exist to automate processes. There are also applications that don’t and instead automate aspects of mapping, collaboration, communication and change management. Those three areas are very social by nature and always have been. Their social aspects have been managed by pencil, email, conversation, and data locked in documents somewhere on a PC or network. Business process management is also about taking the most important data…how people do work…and treating it the same way as any other enterprise data: It belongs in a central database, versioned, with the right people having appropriate access when they need it.
Do diagrams need to be complicated?
Again, no. If people are to contribute to and consume business process content, it needs to be in their language with simple shapes, lines and labeling. The data that supports the process needs to be available on the spot and versioned just like the diagrams themselves. BPMN has its time and place, but so does notation that everyone understands and can use quickly. What can’t be understood easily is quickly ignored. If diagrams are made in a simple fashion, they will be understood and used by the people that matter the most…the end users.
Can BPM have live interaction?
Yes, it can. If data is centralized, versioned and available to those who need it.
Give the users this capability, and there will be live interaction in the same way social happens…at the moment it matters. Watch the store clerk interact with process at Best Buy Europe, and you’ll see that live interaction is their game. Adding a social layer to what they have now just makes sense and will further empower the employees.
Methodologies for BPM and social
The arguments have been made in many places that social is the opposite of methodology but this is also the Texas-size blanket issue. A methodology is defined as a guideline for solving a problem with specific components such as phases, tasks, methods, techniques and tools. Social can be many things, but it isn’t a substitute for having some form of discipline in how we approach this idea. The single greatest fear I hear voiced by people contemplating social is that it will create outsized chaos before it brings a benefit. Having some plan in place (a methodology) matters. That plan can morph and change with input and collaboration in a clearly social way.
Putting it together
There is certainly plenty of marketing around Social BPM. In fact, there’s incredible marketing around Social <your discipline here>. A lot of what is happening is absolutely hype as everyone wants a part of the potential profitability of a broad software spend. There are, however, real opportunities for taking social concepts delivered through technology in a way that moves business process forward.
Companies like Northrop Grumman are doing this today and the value is obvious for their distributed workforce, creativity in going after new business, and continuous improvement in everything they do.
Business process is the common language of business and is the logical home for social interaction.