Whither Social BPM?

  • May 13, 2010
  • Scott

Keith Swenson weighs in on Social and BPM:

Similarly, proper use of social software will be about individuals producing, publishing and running their own processes. Not collaboration on the design phase, but designing individually, and collaborating with a completed process.  This won’t just be the BPM lifecycle using social software, it will be the elimination of the BPM lifecycle, the elimination of a design phase, the elimination of the separation between designers and workers.

How our expectations have changed in just a year – I read the above statements and agreed.  And yet, I remember a year ago even getting people to buy in to the idea of social features around designing BPM was a stretch (here’s a post from barely 9 months ago on the subject).

One thought-  social collaboration on structured processes will be important, just as Keith argues that collaboration on “user-designed” processes will be important.  As Keith put it “collaboration on the finished product” (his emphasis).  Social collaboration of users within a process could result in best practices bubbling up – much like some of the improvements discovered on factory floors by the people who work the line – but you have to have support for collecting and acting on that feedback over time.

The only part I really couldn’t agree with:

“This won’t just be the BPM lifecycle using social software, it will be the elimination of the BPM lifecycle, the elimination of a design phase, the elimination of the separation between designers and workers.”

The work will change, but I don’t believe process design goes away.  I think it just means that a rising tide lifts all boats- making more processes accessible from an ROI and skills point of view – not eliminating the need for design on a significant number of processes.  In other words, I don’t think that process collaboration turns process designers into typists whose job has become obsolete because everyone does their own word processing and typing.  I think it is a bit more like introducing productivity tools that make something that would previously have been difficult, easier.  Lowering the barriers to entry, rather than eliminating the whole discipline and process of process improvement.  However, I reserve the right to disagree with myself in a year or two as we see what the future holds! We’re still learning what “social” can mean for our businesses – too early to close our minds to a range of possibilities.

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  • Scott, good post.

    Think about this: 20 years ago (not ancient history) “typesetting” was a profession that was very important to the publishing industry. Every book project, hired a typesetter. Every magazine or newspaper article. And there was a distinct cycle that every article and every book needed to go through, which was pretty rigidly defined and took a long time. If 20 years ago you told an author they would “do their own typesetting” they would have considered you loony.

    But consider the process you went through to publish this blog entry. Did you use a typesetter? Of course not. Did you use a copy editor? Surely not. Did you use a graphic artist? No. The publishing cycle has been virtually eliminated for blog posts.

    Does that mean that typesetters no longer exist? Not really. They still exist for large projects (books, brochures, etc) which are still done in a more or less traditional book publishing way. Social software has ushered in a NEW way of publishing which does not need a publishing cycle, but it has not entirely eliminated all traces of the old publishing that still needs a cycle.

  • I get where you're coming from, but I don't agree. I think it is more analogous to the introduction of better tools (like VLSI CAD design) for chip design. When I was graduating from college, such software tools decimated the hiring of EE grads. But, today, there are more EE's designing chips than ever. Why is that? because the cost of designing chips went way down – and so the spectrum of what it might be worth designing and building a chip for has increased dramatically… resulting in MORE chip designers, not less.

    I think that is more akin to what will happen in BPM. As processes get easier to design or collaborate on, more people will be able to participate. But also, *many* more processes will be feasible to solve with BPM (or ACM, or technology in general). I believe demand will outstrip supply of the necessary skills, even as the tooling gets better (in fact, even because the tooling gets better). So, we both have useful analogies to look back on to draw our own predictions going forward. I think they're both interesting and potentially valid cases to draw on, and they might both be correct in different time-frames.

    But – we don't have to resolve this argument today 🙂 We have twenty years to see how it plays out! Let's just say, I don't feel like I need to find a new job yet… 😉

  • I tend to agree with Keith here, in fact when Clay Richardson shared a slidedeck he was due to present in February I suggested that the old process lifecycle slide should now be revamped to include how social and collaborative engagement will reshape it. It’s no longer Plan-Do-Check-Act any more. It may be completely iterative and almost chaotic at times in nature but it will be community driven, much like the Cabal process Valve underwent to improve and deliver Half-Life all those years ago (and look at the result, critically acclaimed 10x over). I agree that it’s waaaay beyond the simple process discovery use cases both vendors and analysts seem fixed on, I have done right from the start ! Same goes for roles titles, it just institutionalises BPM to the point it’s impossible to unravel. The last silo in the enterprise to break down will be the one protecting the BPM empire and those cowering in it.

    Yes, the BPM community may need to adapt but only if it actually wants to in the first place. We have years of legacy to peel away, fact that the ABPMP for example have only just written their BoK means that even after a decade we’ve only started to accept what BPM means in itself never mind try to get our heads around something that’ll blow it wide open again.

    And I agree with Keith’s point: it’s no longer Social BPM; Collaborative Enterprise, Social Business Management, whatever, I won’t get drawn into the whole naming debate 😉

  • Well, the community isn't a single entity 🙂 It is made of many people – some will adapt, at any rate, one hopes.

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