When Thinking Matters in the Workplace

In the 4 and 1/2 years since “Mastering the Unpredictable” introduced the idea of Adaptive Case Management to the world, a growing group of people have struggled to define what it really means to make use of this new emerging trend.  This new book “When Thinking Matters in the Workplace” takes it one step further — to outline what a manager needs to know, to lead a team of innovative knowledge workers, and how to put in place a system to best support them.

Thinking-Matters_Just_FrontWe know that innovation is the key to success, not just in high tech, but in all industries. Innovation is what happens when knowledge workers are successful.  Innovation is the result of thinking “how can we do this better?”  Innovation has always been a largely manual activity until recent years.  The emergence of BPM technology finally enabled the automation of knowledge worker processes — but then we ran into a problem.   Innovation is not a routine process.  Innovation happens differently every time.  You can’t just define the process of innovation, and automate it.

The decision of how to support workers in an office should not be decided by technologists.  At the level of knowledge workers, the technology defines how the business will operate.  This is a core business decision that must be made by the executives of the organization, not the IT department.  The way that knowledge workers are supported strongly effect the way the entire business operates.

That is why we made this book to address the problem at the executive management level.  This is not a book for technologists.  It is a book for managers to understand the choices they must make, and how those choices will effect their ability to create new products and services.

Knowledge workers are quite flexible and capable in many ways, and so there is no single prescription on how to support them.  However, it is easy to identify technology that is bad for knowledge workers.  It is easy to put in place technology that restricts workers, and eliminates innovation.  You won’t notice that innovation is gone, until it is too late.

This project is the culmination of years of study on how successful teams work together to innovate.  We go into detail on what innovation and knowledge work is, why it is difficult to understand, how it is different from routine work, what good management is, and how technology needs to support this.  After  reading this book, you will be prepared with good reasons for choosing one approach over another, with solid references to support your position.

For readers of this blog post, for a limited time, sign up for the mailing list, and get the first chapter for free.  I will be sending all the chapters out for review to this mailing list as well over time, so stay on the list if the first chapter is of value to you.

UPDATE: Find it on Amazon

Outline of the Contents

1. Innovation Management Challenge.  What is innovation?  How do innovators work? including some examples.  Some misconceptions about innovation: is it rarely a sudden epiphany, and does not require incredible mental powers.  Distinguishing routine work from knowledge work.  Innovators need leaders, and how leaders differ from managers.  How innovators need autonomy and accept unpredictability.

2. Understanding Complexity.  The biggest mistake in supporting innovation, is tied to misunderstanding complexity.  Innovation is not simple.  This high level overview of complexity science gives us an understand of why reducing a business to the simplest form tends to eliminate the ability to innovate, which is necessary at all levels.  We need to leave behind thinking of an organization as a machine, and understand that organizations are complex systems.  Understanding how complex systems behave prepares us for choices we have to make in how to support them.

3 Management and Leadership.  Knowledge workers are not like machines.  Experienced managers already know how to lead people who think. We examine the evidence from management science supporting this, and at the same time contrast such wisdom with the mechanistic approaches that IT departments tend to favor.   We show how sound management principles are often discarded when designing systems for supporting workers.

4 Agile Management. Building on this, we outline a brief overview of the ways that one should lead and support knowledge workers in a way that gives them the freedom to innovate.  Many of these ideas come from other fields, and we are repurposing them for general work environment.  We examine how Toyota did this for the manufacturing industry.  We examine how Agile approaches have been used in software and high tech fields.  We also briefly cover Lean and Six Sigma recommendations for leaders, and well as the power of a checklist.  This gives us an idealized vision for how knowledge workers might be enabled to work best together.

5. Business Architecture.  How do you define your business? How does your business succeed?  This is not about IT systems, but the organization itself.  Every executive knows that the shape of the organization is critical to the long term success of the organization.  We focus in this chapter on some new ways of organizing, that have only recently been possible because of advances in information technology.  How push organizations different from pull organizations.  We look at a company that has eliminated all management at all levels, and how that works.  We look at flow-to-work organizations, hyper-social organizations, and wirearchies.  There is no single best architecture, but most of us should consider whether some aspects of these radical new approaches should be embraced.

6 Business Technology.  Having a solid grounding of where you want to take your organization, we then discuss recently emerged technical options, and how those might effect your organizations.  What is collaboration technology, how email is a benefit and a vice, how social networks might be used, enterprise 2.0, and systems of engagement.  We present the range of 7 different process technologies, with a focus on two types of case management.  There are then a couple of other technological aspects you need to be concerned with: identity, security, and some challenges with mobile technology.

7 Roadblocks to Innovation.  Here we delve into problems that you are likely to run into if you take a naive approach to supporting knowledge workers.  These are things that look good in concept, but when deployed they turn against you.  Some are promises that technology vendors make but are stated in confusing and misleading ways.  Beware the ‘snake oil!’  Some approaches are very attractive, but don’t work.  This chapter prepares you to avoid the misleading approaches.

8 What is Case Management?  The way to support innovation is case management, but once again, not everything that carries this name will necessarily fit the need.  This chapter goes into depth on the features and capabilities that you should expect to find, as well as a discussion of why these features are important.  If you are considering the purchase of case management technology, you should certainly read this chapter before that.

9 Patterns of Innovation.  As you already know, the technology is not the whole story.  This chapter talks about how to successfully use technology in the support of innovation.  It touches on culture change, adoption strategies, how to design for change, how to leverage the intelligence of the workers, how to reduce the cost supporting work, and how to best leverage the transparency and social ties of case management.

10 Fumbling Innovation.  The flip side of the coin, this chapter covers how technology can be used poorly and effectively stop innovation.  These are patterns to look for, and avoid, among the workers.  Don’t micromanage, don’t ask for too much detail up front, don’t prevent changes to plans, don’t punish people who try and fail.   In general, how to avoid making a working environment that is unfriendly to innovation.

11 Leading the Innovators.  Tips and techniques to help the knowledge workers understand how these approach help them innovate, and why it is important for business.  Some hints here on how to inspire workers to make the best use of the technology.

12 Lessons from the Field.  Covers some real live used cases that used case management technology, how they used it, what they did right, and what they did wrong.


At 370 pages, this book is packed with references that will help you back up the approach you take to support knowledge workers.  Whether you want to try out a radical new style of organization, or whether you want to stick with the reliable existing organization and simply wish to eliminate unnecessary paperwork, this book will give you needed details.  Knowledge is power, and we have tried to bring together everything you might need to make a  decision about Case Management for your organization.

If thinking does matter in your organization:

  • You already know that smart people need autonomy in order to innovate and create.
  • Automation, done haphazardly, can put strait-jackets on your most creative people.
  • You don’t want to put in place technology that micro-manages your knowledge workers.
  • Robots don’t innovate.
  • This book provides some guidelines to help avoid this the worst pitfalls and to take the best advantage of this adaptive approach for supporting teams of knowledge workers.

3 thoughts on “When Thinking Matters in the Workplace

  1. Pingback: When Thinking Matters in the Workplace | bpm an...

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