Is Micromanagement a necessary part of BPM?

This tidbit of advice (in a list among others) was sent around to managers at my company recently:

Stop micromanaging. Micromanagement is a sign of mistrust. You hired them for a reason. If you don’t trust they will get the job done then by all means, either find people who you think will, or leave them alone to do their jobs.

This is good advice for almost all teams, and certainly for knowledge workers.  But isn’t micromanagement exactly what BPM is all about?  Maybe, maybe not.

What is Micromanagement?

  • to manage or control with excessive attention to minor details. –
  • to manage especially with excessive control or attention to details – Merriam Webster

The key to understanding lies in the term “excessive”.  If you know a person who habitually micromanages people, you know that they will always insist that they were not micromanaging, because the level of detail was necessary.  Most micromanagers don’t know that they are doing it. They simply keep specifying exact behaviors to more and more detail, generally in the name of professionalism and doing a good job.

Good BPM is all about detail and lots of it.  Well implemented, a BPM diagram is supposed to be as complete as possible, that is, as detailed as possible.  Have you ever heard someone ask to remove some of the detail from a process?  There seems to be no limit to the amount of detail that one should try to include.

The Need to Avoid Detail

How much detail you want depends upon the context.  A routine job like bolting seats into a car on an assembly line might warrant a high amount of detail.  A straight through process such as check “clearing” might also need a lot of detail.  But in a knowledge worker situation, such a deciding a new product strategy, inventing a new advertisement theme, or a merger of two companies, needs a lot of space.  The most successful people work opportunistically: for example a new company came out with a new product which complimentary to yours, and you offer to do co-marketing to benefit both products.  It is likely that a micromanager will eliminate opportunistic possibilities.

When a manager specifies an activity in too much detail there are two problems.  The first, and more common, is that it is insulting to the workers.  Stating the work in tremendous detail implies at some level that those people would not know these actions which because they are so detailed are sometimes rather trivial.  The second problem is that over-constraining the possible actions can put the worker in an ethical dilemma having to choose between the right course of action for the situation, and the course that the boss has laid out in detail.  It is important to leave some things vague so that the worker does not have to violate an agreement to get the right thing done.

The helpful advice to management mentioned at the top warns that too much specification of detail may drive valuable people to leave.  It also talks about trust, another area that it is not clear fit into traditional BPM.

Where are the Guidelines?

My real goal today is to simply reflect on how the conventional wisdom to avoid micro management is diametrically opposed to the conventional wisdom of traditional human-oriented and server-oriented BPM.  Everyone “knows” that you should not micromanage.  At the same time, everyone “knows” that a BPM process should be as detailed as possible.  How can it be that there are no well defined guidelines to avoid too much detail in a Human BPM process?  When do you stop adding detail, and when do you remove detail from a BPM aplication?  I know of no such guidelines, and I challenge readers to post comments if you know of any.

An ACM Differentiator

I would put forward that this is yet one more differentiator between traditional Human BPM / Server Integration and Adaptive Case Management (ACM).  The former categories are about automation, and as such being as complete as possible is a benefit.  It is possible that there are no guidelines because automation of routine work is somehow distinctly different from knowledge work done by professionals.

However, the latter category, ACM, is not about automation, and instead about facilitation.  For ACM, you want to include enough guidance to be helpful (like a good mentor) but never so much that it gets to be overly controlling.  A well designed ACM template will eliminate as much detail as possible, and include only the parts that are absolutely necessary.

The amount of detail will naturally vary from person to person (depending upon their skill and experience).  This makes it a big challenge to make everyone happy, but remember, since knowledge workers construct their own work environments, they can do as much as they want, or as little as they want, for their own tastes.

2 thoughts on “Is Micromanagement a necessary part of BPM?

  1. Pingback: Process documentation - the right level of detail | Process ExcellenceProcess Excellence

  2. Pingback: Throw Away the Process Map, use Status Feedback Instead | Collaborative Planning & Social Business

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