All this talk of “Social-BPM” there must be something on the other end of the spectrum. Does this mean that “traditional BPM” is anti-social? Well, it can be, and I had that experience this week.
I filed an expense report from a few weeks back using a major ERP system (to remain unnamed). A few days later got this message:
Complete Audit. Adjusted Expenses Date: 26-Sep-2010, Expense Type: Telecomm – Cell/Wireless, Original Amount (USD): 100.99, Adjustment (USD): 4.54, New Amount (USD): 96.45, Instructions: Policy Violation. Your expense does not comply with company policy. Please provide a justification for this expense. Less adjustment -$10.57 plus taxes and fees $6.03.
I can’t figure out anything from this, so I email the accounting person involved, and asked what the deal was. I pointed out that this message does not tell what the problem is. I asked why the message did not include some sort of indication of the actual problem. She said I had entered $100 for a $96 receipt — it turned out that from the many figures on the phone bill, I had entered the wrong one — but she was not able at the time to include a message to this effect.
Unfortunately, there were only 3 choices to pick from and that’s the closest explanation that we could find but it’s not really a violation. The correct reason is wrong amount.
So apparently this accounting process is designed that when there is a problem with the expense report, there is no way to write a note to the person who filed the report, and you only have three choices. Violation of company policy was the closest to “you typed in the wrong value” makes me wonder what the other two choices are.
It really struck me as how anti-social this really is. To tell somebody that they “violated company procedure” in those terms, without explanation. The people who designed this process thought that there would only be three things you would ever want to say about any possible expense report error. Whoever designed this was completely oblivious to the need for people to communicate about the thing being worked on.
Interstage BPM has the ability to strike up a conversation about anything in the process — process instances, work items, whatever — at any time and without needing to add this explicitly to the BPM application. Does this mean it is social-BPM? No, not this feature by itself, but it is clearly not as anti-social as it could be. I don’t know whether the system supporting this process had similar capabilities, but the implemented process did not use them.
This employee has one solution:
I will ask our manager if we can add ‘other’ so next time we have a generic reason.
Sort of missed the point. Then later I received a message saying:
If you go find the open task, and forward it back to me, I will correct the problem for you and get it on its way.
While being grateful for the helpfulness of the accounting staff, I struck me how poorly this process fit the real world need. They knew the process instance, and knew what had to be done, but had no ability to actually take care of the problem. This extra email outside the system was sent to help me use the process as designed, and not — as we often imagine — to handle something truly exceptional. It is safe to say that a well designed process will never require you to send email just to help others use the process. The point of the process in the first place is to facilitate the work of the people, isn’t it?
This process is clearly poorly designed from a “social-factors” perspective, but it is not the fault of the underlying system. I have worked together with business people who insist that user options should be strictly limited: (e.g. the user should only have three choices at this point). Business users are not used to thinking through all the exceptional cases that might arise. At the same time developers are not used to thinking through all the business factors either. Both sides want to simplify and design the process around the easy cases, and hope all cases can be fit into them.
The challenge before us is to help business and IT understand that all business processes are social to some extent. This is not a special new category. Social-factors should be a consideration in the design of any process where people are involved.
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Jacob made a follow up blog post about this called “Aren’t Business Processes Always Social Processes?”