Treat the Work as Interchangeable, not the People

Scott Francis
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Keith Swenson writes about BPM, repeating, and facilitation:

Imagine a BPM expert suggesting that you process was run differently every time, and suggesting that if it did actually repeat itself it would be a dead end!  That is the difference between facilitation of knowledge work, and automation of routine work.

This is easy to imagine if you know the BPM experts I know…!

For example, at one customer, we used A/B testing to determine the most effective performance incentives for third-party-vendor participants in a process.  In general, where the best practice isn’t already known, understood, or proven, BPM experts (like those at BP3) design the process to leave room for variation and individual authority and autonomy.  Lance Gibbs, our CEO, has a phrase for this: accountability and the authority to act.

I’m surprised Keith doesn’t take more issue with decision factories, which attempt to commoditize experience and context, rather than BPM, which gives great latitude to the specificity of the process definition.

This passage was interesting:

Imagine a BPM analyst suggesting that a BPM process will be stale and predictable.  She suggests going out of your way to throw people together in unexpected ways in order to spark innovation.

The effort to build process is often just that – throwing people together in unexpected ways – IT, business, executives and consultants alike.  And BPM analysts often suggest a BPM process will be come stale relative to the world it lives in.  Thus the phrase “continuous process improvement”.  This is BPM 101 for those of us who came up through the Lombardi BPM school of thought.  As for throwing people together in unexpected ways to spark innovation – this isn’t contrary to BPM, in fact, if throwing them together itself is planned activity, then it indeed looks like a process…

Finally, from Keith’s conclusion:

What is only surprising is how stark in contrast these quotes are to the idea of the cycle of “define, implement, execute, measure, and improve” which is the mantra of the BPM domain.  Organizations are not machines, and we should not treat knowledge workers as interchangeable parts in a machine.  This is not happy-speak about some sort of worker utopia, but instead well understood principles of leading organizations.

I agree completely with the second statement (bold), but disagree completely with the first statement (not bold).  The cycle is just a simplification for purposes of explanation of activities that businesses interested in improving their business processes (and businesses) should engage in.  Keith equates BPM to “treating knowledge workers as interchangeable parts in a machine”.  That is not the BPM that BP3 practices, and I don’t believe that is the generally accepted definition of BPM.  The BPM we’re interested in frees the worker from micromanaging the organization. The BPM we’re interested in treats the work as interchangeable rather than the people.

Leadership is not the same as BPM.  But they’re not contrary, nor in opposition.  Management gurus tend to be focused on leadership and culture – but done right, BPM and leadership and culture are all mutually reinforcing. Thanks again to Keith for sharing some interesting perspectives, hope this is good food for thought for the BPM practitioners out there – if you are indeed thinking of BPM as treating people as interchangeable, rather than the work as interchangeable, you’re falling into a bit of a trap with diminishing returns.

 

 

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