Music and BPM

  • August 17, 2011
  • Scott
  • 6 Comments

Update: In the interest of clarity I’ve updated the second-to-last paragraph of this post.

Anyone following the #BPM hashtag on twitter has probably been amused at times because we also get a fair number of posts about BPM the XM/Sirius station as well.

But in this case, Emily Burns of Pega has decided music offers a metaphor for BPM vs. Case Management:

Recently I was describing to someone the difference between BPM and Case Management, and found that music lends itself very nicely as a metaphor—specifically, the contrast between solo and ensemble works and the contrast between Classical and jazz.

I couldn’t disagree more.  Any use of an analogy like this, especially when it is loaded to make one party sound better than the other, is easy to pick apart.  In particular she states that “the closest musical metaphor to traditional BPM is the performance of a solo piece; a piece of music written to be performed by an individual person.”  I’m not sure what kind of BPM Emily Burns has been familiar with, but I have yet to see a BPM project for one person.  or built around one process-actor (or even multiple process actors all playing out the same role in the process).  BPM projects are cross-functional and typically cross-departmental.

The core of her argument is on more common footing with the idea that case management accommodates improvisation whereas BPM does not.  But I’d hardly equate case management with a jazz ensemble.  Nor BPM with classical music.  Music is art.  Office work may not be routine, but it isn’t typically what I’d call art.

Comparisons and analogies around Case Management and BPM always trip up if one is willing to dig into specifics.  Often, the people making the comparisons do so with an implicit (unstated) assumption that all the interactions between process participants has to be modeled in a tool to be effective (or coordinated in a tool at runtime to be effective).  This just isn’t the case – normal human interaction takes place outside of tooling – whether you are a BPM advocate or a Case Management advocate.  There’s no need to model the conversation in the hall, the conversation over the cube wall, the agreements made between coworkers over lunch.

What it boils down to is simple – most case management approaches really focus on improving the outcome of a single case, largely ignoring the consequences at volume.  Case Management approaches seem more appropriate to work “processes” (cases) that can not be well-designed a priori.  BPM approaches, on the other hand, tend to focus on optimizing aggregate outcomes rather than a single outcome.  BPM approaches seem more appropriate to work “processes” (cases) that can be largely designed in advance (a priori).

The analogies may be comforting, they may help explain an opinion or a point of view, but let’s not mistake them for proof. (Or in particular, proof that one approach is better than the other)

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