Social BPM – Book Review

The book “Social BPM: Work, Planning and Collaboration Under the Impact of Social Technology” was released in June, and I became more enthusiastic the more I read.  Here is my review of the chapters of this very timely book.Social BPM Cover

Chapter 1 – This is my chapter I wrote to explore the question, why do people expect business processes to be simple?  There is a kind of “shared myth” that one should be able to isolate a simple process model from a business situation. This myth can cause BPM projects to fail when people try to implement oversimplified process models. It also leads people to try to use a predictive methods to support business that is too complex for such simple models. the chapter explores the origin of Newtonian & Cartesian thinking, how to identify it, and suggest that to be successful with social business; we will need to change the mind set of all people in an organization, from the top to the bottom.

Chapter 2 – Nathaniel Palmer – Social BPM can leverage many aspects of social technology. Reputation & trust are an important part of getting business accomplished. Traditional BPM assumes or hard-codes these trust relationships, with Social BPM trust & reputation can be explicitly represented and manipulated at run time, and used directly in the unfolding business process.  Three forms of incorporating social technology into BPM are explored; social modeling, social collaboration during runny of a process, and social chatter of tracking events.

Chapter 3 – Keith Harrison Broninski  is one of the great thinkers on collaboration technology.  We all recognize that knowledge work requires flexibility, and flexibility means charge. He points out that the ability to change by itself is not enough. You have to have constructs that support the management of change itself.  Lean & Six Sigma do not explicitly have support for this. He then compares three dominant paradigms: BPM, ACM, & his own “HIM” approaches to support work.  For BPM he points out three specific weaknesses with respect to change management:

  • it is necessary to decide upfront where the boundary between public & private are
  • the essence of BPM is to hide, instead of to share
  • mutual interdependence of public / private makes it fragile

He gives a quick description of ACM followed by a detailed description of HIM including how it supports change management though his method called Goal Oriented Organization Design (GOOD).  An honest assessment might show ACM & HIM to be considerably more similar than he suggests.  Yet his extension to the actual “management of change” makes this chapter significant.

Chapter 4 – Max Pucher maintains a love/hate relationship with Social BPM.  Starting with a highly skeptical stance that Social BPM has any firm definition, he goes on to describe why people are interested in the idea of Social BPM:  companies need to reduce costs, and at the same time increase innovation.  He point to the increasing number of high value knowledge workers, and how those knowledge workers are becoming more influential for wooing customers to the business.  This is especially true as we go higher in the management hierarchy, the processes become less and less definable.  He warns that fixing those processes with a BPM approach will have costly upkeep that is often not considered at implementation time.

What then should we do?  He recommends an adaptive process approach where systems are put into place to allow knowledge workers to respond in real time, of course.   He then goes into a well organized defense of empowering knowledge workers and executives so they can set and manage goals flexibly as business advances.  He says “BPM and Six Sigma proponents do typically frown on empowerment because they say empowered users would rather create a comfort zone for themselves instead of improving processes for the customer.”  In many ways, it really comes down to the Theory X/theory Y management dichotomy, but we know that to leverage intelligence of people on the front line, you shouldn’t constrain their ability to act.  This chapter contains plenty of evidence and support (20 pages) for business leaders who understand that their success depends upon knowledge workers, and need to convince others in their organization that Adaptive Case Management is a valuable option.

Chapter 5 – Sandy Kemsley has been writing about Social BPM (under one name or another) for a number of year and bring a mature perspective to the various ways that social technology might be combined with BPM technology.  She starts with Web 2.0, then Enterprise 2.0,  and the clarifies that there are four principle ways that social and BPM can be used together:

  • collaborative process discovery where people work together to define processes for what might be a traditional BPM environment.  Social technology helps to capture the process from those who know it.
  • run-time collaboration is a broad category.  The basic end of the spectrum might be traditional BPM with aspects of the process modifiable by people and incorporating social network information.  At the extreme you can have a full blown ACM approach where people are creating and modifying business processes as they need them.
  • process event streams where the records of what the process is doing is shared to others through activity streams, which can be monitored.  The real potential here is for process mining to be used to give insight to the business, even when the entire process is not automated, by combining events from BPM together with events from manual activities.
  • internal and external BPM communities allow people to collaborate in a more general way, and a less focused way than only on process discovery.

There is a good overview of each of these categories which most readers will find very helpful for understanding product offerings and cutting through the hype that typical surrounds emerging product categories.

Chapter 6 – John Flynn gives a good overview of the workplace, work, and how social technology might change this.  He points to the problems of traditional push oriented management, for example capacity planning which fails miserably when unforeseen changes in demand are encountered.  “The uncertainty aspect of a process re-introduces the one key component that BPM initiatives often seek to eliminate: human beings.”  He outlines three types of collaboration: formal collaboration, casual collaboration / crowdsourcing, and mass collaboration.  Social technology has an opportunity to modify each of these forms of collaboration, with and without BPM.

Chapter 7 – Piero Fraternali and Marco Brambilla represent the more conservative end of this spectrum of authors when they consider the modeling aspects of social BPM.  They see a continuum of of five levels of social support within the business process realm:  closed BPM, participatory design, participatory enactment, social enactment, and process mining.  Based on the assumption that process models will be based on BPMN, they then propose some extensions to BPMN to support enhanced capabilities that they see social technology bringing to BPM.

Chapter 8 – Steve Russell puts together a good case to show how Social technology enhances the BPM experience for everyone.  He defines social technology, and then shows how it enables dramatically different approaches:  organic systems vs. organizational structures, communities vs. departments, crowd opinion vs. computed results, and personal networks vs. organizational charts.  With an understanding of these differences, BPM is examined for ways that it is traditionally compatible with this.  He finished off with a set of enhancements that he suggests BPM systems must have in order to properly make use of the social trend.  These include: capture / rank / share everything, promote collaboration, create social feedback loops, use social conventions for non social applications, and make the participant the center of the universe. Good advice.

Chapter 9 – Setrag Khoshofian, Patrick Tripp, Steve Kraus start with a discussion of how social technology allows for greater communications from everyone the voice of the network.  Business processes can and should respond to this voice.  They talk about traditional BPM versus a case management approach, and how analytics can bring these together.

Chapter 10 – Vikas Nehru and Ajay Khanna focus specifically on customer relationship management and how social media is having a profound effect on this.  They explore different ways you can leverage this by combining it with business process support.

Chapter 11 – Ram Ramdas and Jay Pullur give up a detailed study of a specific process: channel management for a multi-chanel retail distribution network.  They looked at ad-hoc, structured, and collaborative processes, and examined how social contextual collaboration could be best leveraged.

Chapter  12 – Annelize Booysen and Michelle Booysen cover an unusual case of simultaneous process improvement.  It is detailed specific case of improving a particular process where the experts needed to improve the process are spread around the world.  The challenge was to use digital communications and social technology to allow these people to work together, to improve the process, and to keep costs literally as low as possible.  A great example of social technology for collaborative process design.

Chapter 13 – Roy Altman and Ken Altman examine processes in a medical center.  Medical professionals are in many described as “the ultimate knowledge workers” and they have to deal with unpredictable realities every day including the fact that every case has some unique aspects.  They provide six reasons that doctors will become increasingly in demand, and thus a system they call “Dynamic Clinical Pathways (DCP)” will allow medical professionals to focus on using their experience and intuition to make nuanced diagnoses while letting the system provided the necessary memory and structure.”  This is NOT a diagnosis system.  Instead, DCP counts as ACM and Social BPM because of five factors: multiple people involved in care, integrated practice, it attempts to standardize decisions, a body of knowledge grows over time, and it supports research.  The system has nothing to do with automatic anything, but instead about leveraging doctors and exports to make the real decisions, to navigate a complex tree of possibilities, and to gather historical evidence that can inform future decision makers.  They paint a detailed picture of exactly how an ACM system can help knowledge workers in the medical field.

Chapter 14 – E Roper brings the discussion of social BPM to the concept of Kaizen and continual improvement.  Specifically, the approach was to use communications tools to allow multiple remote people to work on process models at the same time, and then to use simulation to help distinguish whether the quality improved.  The purpose was not to replace experts with simplified models, but instead bring the job to the experts themselves, and to help gain the benefit of their expertise directly in the modeling exercise.  Details of a specific use of this technique are included.

Chapter 15 – Vinaykumar Mummigatti presents the case that social interactions are quite complex, while most BPM process models are simpler, and have a hard time including this complexity.  So true.  One are that might be tackled is incorporation of social media into BPM processes.  The goal is to let customers be more directly engaged in defining and designing your products in something he calls Customer Experience Transformation and Customer Experience Management (CEM).

Chapter 16 – Manoj Das and Linus Chow consider in detail how social technology can be combined within an existing BPM product.  They show how notifications from processes can be blended together with social notifications, and how completely unstructured social discussions can be carried on about tasks in a predefined process.  It is a clear description of extending an existing system to social technology.  This is required reading for anyone who wants to know what all BPM tools will look like 5 years from now.  They even include screen layouts!

Overall Assessment – There are a good variety of views represented, all of which present well considered insights on how this breaking technology trend is going to move forward.  It is extremely timely.  If you are in charge of BPM projects or track technology, and you want to know how social technology is going to impact your department, you will find this book helpful and informative.  Not surprisingly, about half the chapters talk directly about ACM and how that is related.  Layna Fischer, who edited the volume and does all the work in the background to make this series of books appear, has certainly put together a landmark book this time.  Well done!

3 thoughts on “Social BPM – Book Review

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