In this era of digital transformation, more than ever organisations are improving their processes to stay ahead of the competition. To achieve this, they also have to select a toolset that helps them design these processes and speed up automation. The standard approach is to create business process diagrams, discuss them endlessly and eventually try to solve all needs with an off-the-shelf software tool. As you can imagine, this utopian solution doesn’t exist. So let’s see if there’s a better approach.
Could BPM do the job?
Maybe Business Process Modelling can help (or maybe not … read on). BPM has brought tremendous benefits and value to its users. Unfortunately, it has also brought a lot of frustration and many people stop listening as soon as it’s mentioned in a discussion about business processes. We think that’s for the wrong reasons. But before going deeper into this issue, let’s first take a quick look at BPM.
BPM is used to model, identify and continually optimise business processes. As you might expect, there is plenty of specialised software to support such projects. BPM works best with repeatable and predictable processes. If Henry Ford were around today, he’d definitely have invented a BPM framework. Good BPM projects have been creating efficiency gains since the 1980s, leading to better product quality and increased customer satisfaction. What’s not to like?
When things go wrong
Well, people liked the BPM approach so much that they started applying it to processes that were much less predictable. That’s when things started to go wrong. Instead of efficiency gains, businesses experienced the opposite. Some of their workers didn’t even want to use the tools designed to optimise their non-routine processes. These were mainly people working in business areas that are knowledge-driven and so less predictable than expected.
It was the classical mistake. If you only have a hammer (BPM approach), you start seeing all issues as nails (repeatable and predictable processes). This fails to understand the work of most knowledge workers today. Their jobs are only partially repeatable and certainly not predictable. So for example, designing a simple business process that deals with all potential outcomes for your legal department, which gives advice on a case-by-case basis, is actually impossible or very cumbersome at the very least. The same goes for your HR department, which has to provide advice on myriad regulations and contracts.
Manage exceptions with Advanced Case Management
The solution to all this is relatively new and it’s called Advanced Case Management (ACM). This approach documents and optimises all the processes in an organisation, especially the ones that are not quite repeatable and not quite predictable. Such processes are commonly called ‘cases’ or ‘dossiers’. Cases always involve one or more knowledge workers who work towards an objective and have to publish a result. Most knowledge workers are sympathetic to an ACM approach because it doesn’t limit their creativity. To solve any type of case (advice, investigations, research, knowledge gathering, subsidy allocation, etc.), creativity is essential.
In most instances though, you have to combine BPM with ACM. Think of it like surgery. Preparing the operating theatre and getting the patient ready is procedural and highly repeatable (BPM). The more process-driven the better, in fact, because this greatly reduces the risk to the patient. The moment the surgeon makes an incision, there are different possible outcomes. If everything goes smoothly and works out as anticipated, it is a routine BPM-like operation. If something unexpected happens and the standard routines don’t work, the creativity of the surgeon and their team comes into play (ACM).
Real-life examples can be found in HR, legal, IT and many other departments. In fact, in any department where knowledge workers form the majority of the staff. When someone asks one of these departments a question, they expect an expert answer. If the answer could be logged somehow, due to its repetitive nature, people are working according to a predictable process flow (BPM). For example, the answer to “How can I reset my password?” If a problem occurs or specialist advice is needed that requires a specific investigation by an expert (HR specialist, legal counsel or IT consultant), we are in the domain of handling a case (ACM).
Time for action?
So, when most of your co-workers are not following the standard steps you’ve put in your procedures and when people go out of their way to avoid using a tool that you’ve specifically designed to manage their dossiers, this should set off alarm bells – it’s time to introduce Advanced Case Management in your organisation.