My good friend and colleague Bruce Silver made a post recently on BPMN and Case Management positioning ACM as a kind of BPM. This is a mistake that many people make, and I thought it worth highlighting how this line of reasoning confuses rather than explains. If you define a case management using BPM terms and positioning it as a special case of BPM and then concluding that is it a kind of BPM system is not surprising. The logic is persuasive, but it starts from a misunderstanding of who uses an ACM system.
To understand ACM (or case management), one needs to remember that it is about non-programmers getting work done. That leads to a different conclusion. Lets start over from the beginning, but this time remember who it is that is “driving” the system.
- You are a doctor who just read about a new kind of treatment for a disease in a medical journal. You happen to have a patient with that particular illness, and since other things have not worked well, you decide to try this new treatment. You sit down to edit the BPMN diagram describing that patient’s care to include steps for the new treatment.
- You are a judge presiding over a court case. The defense attorney just made a huge procedural blunder. You and everyone in the court have invested a lot of time and effort into this case. You want to see justice done. You would like to avoid having the case thrown out for procedural issues, probably causing the whole thing to start again. You come up with an idea on how to satisfy everyone and keep the case going forward, so you quickly verify this with everyone, and then sit down to edit your BPMN diagram that describes the progress of the court case.
- You are an executive of a large oil company. You have just learned that there was an explosion on your oil platform. You are going to have assess the situation and come up with some pretty creative responses as this situation is not like any you have been in before. You get an idea, so you sit down to edit the BPMN diagram that describes how you manage oil drilling operations.
- You are a director sitting on the board of a consumer product corporation. A large industrial giant has just announced that they are launching a new product in a space your company has been dominant in for many years. Furthermore, their offering has a creative new feature that ties the product back to their very successful and stylish other product lines. You need to come up with a strategy. You have people who can access the real value/quality of the product. You have contacts who might be able to tell you if they are selling the product below cost and destroying the market. There might be patent issues. There will be wave of press interest around this product launch, and if you can get some halo leverage if you can get the marketing program together quickly enough. So you sit down to edit your BPMN diagram on how you run marketing campaigns.
The part where the people edit BPMN is unrealistic. The point should be clear: none of these people will ever use BPMN to describe the work that they need done. The doctor is too busy keeping up with changes in medicine to learn BPMN. The judge will not have a BPMN digram that has been kept up to date about the court case. The oil executive has no time to draw up a careful and fully detailed diagram of what is to be done. The executive has no need to go to the trouble to make a process suitable for reuse.
Nor will these case managers have BPMN experts sitting at their elbow to make such changes for them. Without the process expert instantly at hand to modify the diagram, the time delay will eliminate any benefit of having the diagram in the first place. To expect the judge to send off instructions to someone else in the department to modify the course case will take too long, even if it takes only a few minutes — which would be uncharacteristically fast for any government institution anyway. These are knowledge work cases, and they will never be described using BPMN. In every one of these cases, the value in making a clear documentation of what should be done is wasted because you are not likely to need to use that diagram ever again.
BPMN is a language that is used by process professionals. It is used to create a clear and unambiguous diagram of a process for repeated use. The only way to recuperate the cost of drawing the diagram is to use it many times, which is not what a knowledge worker is doing.
The stock and trade of a knowledge worker is use their expertise and knowledge of the specific situation to figure out the best path. Doctors incorporate 11 new facts into their practice every day. If a doctor had BPMN diagrams to describe their treatment plans, they would be spending nearly full time just keeping them up to date. A board of directors is presented with new and unexpected situations every time they meet. None of these professional will use BPMN directly: executives will never draw up action plans in BPMN, stock brokers will never use BPMN to describe their investment plans, police detectives will never use BPMN to manage their investigations, salespeople will never use BPMN to manage a sale, social workers will never use BPMN to manage social cases, nurses will never use BPMN to define care schedules, marketing directors will never use BPMN to design campaigns, …
Saying the all we need is an extension to BPMN in order to support case management completely misses the point of what case management is about: Case management allows the case manager to be in control, to leverage their expertise, to do what needs to be done. For the case manager (i.e. the doctor, the nurse, the lawyer, the executive, etc) to be in control, they need to be able to directly manipulate case. If the case depends upon BPMN to work, then the case manager must know how to edit and modify the BPMN, and in most professions they will NOT.
BPMN was designed by and for IT folks as a kind of computer language that hopefully business people can validate. But there is no evidence that business people will ever draw or modify those diagrams. That is a job for a process professional. BPM is for process professionals to use, and it is only useful in repeatable, predictable processes.
Case management is what the rest of us use: the process non-professional. ACM is not competition for BPM, it is competition for Email. Most case management today is done with documents sent by email.
Return to the post from Bruce Silver. It states as an axiom that “A case is a set of activities related to each other in some way.” Even at this first step the description avoids the fundamental aspect that a case is a place where an professional does work as an intelligent human being. What has been described is not case management, but instead a kind of BPM, with some extra flexibility. After that, we are not surprised to reach the conclusion that BPM can handle it. But case management is about real professionals doing real work in real time. Such professionals have no need to model anything. They are doing the job, not modeling it.
Case management is not something that the IT department prepares for the case managers. Case management is something that is done by the case managers themselves.