Michael Poulin made an excellent post called “Why business process is always structured?” which delves into the question of why people believe that work is predictable when often it is not. He compares ACM and BPM and the illusion that makes them appear the same.
Michael says “enthusiasts of process management believe that ‘process is everything we do’“. So true. It is this belief in that a process must exist, that drives the existence of the process, not the other way around.
He says “But, wait a minute, do we know what/why we do things? Do we really know the logic of our actions?” Truth is, we do things, and then later rationalize why we did them. However, it is not clear that that rationale is in fact the cause of the actions.
Actually, this post is so right on, I am tempted to quote every paragraph here in entirety, but that seems pointless when you can read the original. Let me however quote his conclusion for emphasis:
Presented observation leads to simple conclusion – Adaptive Case Management and Business Process Management have only one common thing – business management. ACM is not about process management due to the absence of the process, it is rather about a management of consequences of unpredicted events, which itself is very important business task.
I could not have said it better. He says we find ourselves in this position because both sides “use term ‘process’ inappropriately.” That is precisely it. ACM is not simply process management with no process.
I describe it as an illusion. When an art student first attempts to draw an outdoor scene involving a tree, they commonly will start by drawing a line around the tree. That line does not exist in reality, but it is a construct of the mind which automatically classifying what you are seeing. The tree “looks” separate from the surrounding, because we understand that the tree is a separate entity from the mountain behind it. The art student must “unlearn” this habit of drawing in the borders between conceptual things. Such unlearning is not trivial.
A very similar thing happens when people attempt to describe workplace activity. In reality activity is continuous and without distinct boundaries. It is the mind that interprets the activity, and draws in the boundaries between different activities. Without drawing these boundaries, it would be impossible to talk about what it being done, yet we should not forget that they are merely the result of analytical reasoning about the activity. I wrote a bit about this a year ago in “It is All Taylor’s Fault.”
The Blindness of Hindsight
There is another source of illusion, and that is the belief that “hindsight is 20/20”. Consider this:
Learning a subject involves the act of forgetting that you don’t know it.
This trite phrase reminds us that when you learn something, it is very hard to remember what it was like to not know that. When a case manager works through a case, continually assessing the situation, making decisions that define the course of the work. After it is completed, the case manager knows all the facts of the case, and all the key decisions that were correctly, or incorrectly, made. It is easy to think that the whole “process” could have been set up in advance.
If you have followed this far….
We are taught from early years to explain how things have been done, and how they should be done again. But these process diagrams are often “cartoons to the tapestry of life”. When I say that business processes are cartoon, I don’t mean to belittle their need or usefulness. In cases where the process is well known and repeatable, such cartoons are very useful indeed. We should not, however, confuse those cartoons with reality which is much more complex, and much harder to talk about. Our minds naturally put form on what would otherwise be undescribable, and we are fooled by 20/20 hindsight into believe that it all could have been drawn up in advance. We vastly underestimate the variability of action that could have occurred. We vastly underestimate the amount and nature of exceptions that occur. Most of all we vastly under-appreciate how well intelligent people can use experience to smooth out the small bumps and make the whole activity appear uniform.