ACM Questions and Answers

  • May 10, 2010
  • Scott

Frank Michael Kraft has a good writeup of ACM questions and answers, that speaks well to people familiar with BPM :

Q: What is a specific example of the kind of knowledge work that might be supported?
A specific example is described in my chapter “Improving Knowledge Work” in the book “Mastering the Unpredictable”. There is Leona who works for a telecommunications company as an engineer and she needs to do phone support. The work she does in the support area is described with examples, as customer complaints need to be solved. Some tests need to be executed and some countermeasures need to be taken. The work is unpredictable, because the tests and the countermeasures depend on the situation. However the work can still be supported with Adaptive Case Management.

What I like best about his writeup is that he doesn’t set out to bash BPM before making his case in favor of ACM by first describing the problem, then describing the solution (ACM). He has a series of posts on the subject, all worth reading.

However, if I may be so bold, let’s look at the last statement.  “… However, the work an still be supported with [software package or knowledge work management approach]”  The part in brackets, Frank has filled in with the words “Adaptive Case Management.”  But the important thing isn’t the three letter acronym (or three word phrase) that describes the space.  If you are actually implementing your knowledge work emergent processes, the important thing is what the capabilities of that software (or management approach) are – and how well it supports your work.

Max J Pucher in a comment on Keith Swenson’s blog said that he didn’t care what label was applied to Papyrus by the industry or analysts – it solved problems and created real value for clients.  I guess I feel the same way.  If software that supports the use cases that Keith Swenson and Frank Kraft are describing ends up being called ACM, I guess I shouldn’t worry about it too much.  But I think some of the negative things said about BPM software packages reflect specific experience with specific software packages.  Another package that carries the same name (BPM) may have quite different capabilities (though quite a bit of overlap as well).

Pega, IBM, Oracle, and others are going to position hard that they handle Case Management (and ACM) – and if the vendors and thought leaders pushing the ACM label want to keep it differentiated they’ll have to get into the technical details as well as the philosophical (panned versus unplanned, is a philosophical distinction more than a technical one), to illustrate why customers should choose one product over another for the particular challenges they’re facing.

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  • As if to prove my point about positioning, Appian writes:

    I'm glad to see that they're going to talk about the technical cases. Could be interesting reading.

  • The point is that the is a need for a set of capabilities. We have put the label “ACM” on it, so that we can talk about it at length and define it is some semblance of completeness. It is a hook to hang the ideas upon.

    “Mastering the Unpredictable” is 350 pages, and we went to this length in order to get a sufficiently well defined concept in place around the term ACM. I would like to like to urge those in the conversation to read the book to be sure we are talking about the same thing.

    But I would like to be very clear: the claims that BPM as a category can not handle specific situations is not in response to experience with any particular product, is not about perceived limitation of the product, and should not necessarily be considered a “negative” statement. I can say that “cars can't fly” and I don't really disparage them.

    Saying that “BPM can not handle knowledge work” is based on a theory of “BPM Method” which is based on “scientific management” which holds certain basic tenants to be true. The practice of BPM requires that you look at business as a process, starting by defining the process, and reusing the same process many times. As I have pointed out many times, if the process is not predictable, then this METHOD does not work.

    This argument is completely separate from what a particular BPM product might or might not support. Some BPM products have aspects of ACM built in them (Fujitsu calls it Dynamic BPM). I would say that these products go beyond the METHOD of BPM when they offer these capabilities. If we call the whole thing “BPM” then it is hard to talk about what is needed for knowledge work.

    The reason for inventing a new term, is so that we can talk about the aspects needed for supporting knowledge work, without confusing everyone about what “BPM Means” (see my post on all the variations of meanings of this term) or having to debate what is or is not important. There is a set of capabilities we call ACM which are important for supporting knowledge work, and specific product may, or may not, have those qualities.

    Certainly vendors will start immediately claiming that they have ACM capabilities — and maybe they do. But we can discuss this only if we have a name for the set of capabilities: Adaptive Case Management.

  • I appreciate your well-thought-out response. Key point of contention between us is that you have narrowly defined BPM to be based on scientific management a la Henry Ford and the like. I don't define it so narrowly, and I don't think the average BPM practitioner does either. In fact, I noticed this pivot in your description late last year (or early this year). You're highly focused on the “management” part – but some processes are creative/dynamic and still need to be managed – creativity does not preclude management.

    I didn't find the listing of BPM “definitions” to be confusing or illuminating either. It doesn't prevent me from getting the job done for customers, and it doesn't prevent my customers from understanding what BPM is… and I was at Impact last week and no one was confused about what BPM is… I could also simply stop arguing and just point out that from your descriptions it appears that several of the BPMS packages I've been using have actually been doing ACM all along. If you really believe that BPMS products already implement some or all of what you call ACM, then move on from the BPM comparisons and just advocate for ACM.

    Again, I think entirely too much time is wasted on trying to explain the shortcomings of BPM, and not nearly enough illuminating “ACM”. You're arguing between flying and driving – but I'm not convinced that we aren't just talking about the difference between a gas engine and a hybrid or an electric. Interesting, but not nearly worth the level of debate being generated. Especially if you have a broader definition of terms (as I do).

    I hope the book sales are brisk, but I prefer reading the blogs. The book doesn't talk back 🙂

  • frankmichaelkraft

    Thank you.
    We are not speaking of functionality that is lacking in BPM tools.
    And we are not despising BPM.
    BPM is good for it's own purpose. But something is missing. That something is needed for the purpose of unpredictable processes. It is modeling the process while running it. It is adapting the process to events, circumstances and decisions durint it's lifetime. That something is fundamentally different from BPM, because in BPM first the model is designed in design time and then later it is executed in runtime. This is not working for the problems that must be solved with unpredictable processes or cases.
    That is the one singular most important technological difference.
    The challenge to solve these specific problems is now up to the companies, that offer or plan to offer ACM solutions. These different technology solutions will compete. Maybe later in life a standard will emerge as with BPMN for BPM.
    For all who have read only the blog posts, I also recommend the book. And we will have a tweetjam on 15th of July. See

  • Frank, No one could accuse you of belittling bpm, etc. I apologize for making too broad a statement previously, casting far too wide a net.

    Thanks again for a well-thought and well-reasoned comment (on my blog and others!)