It Doesn’t Have to Have Social Tools to be Social

Improving collaboration is perhaps the most obvious benefit to adding social capability to BPM. But don’t we collaborate on processes today? Of course we do but the new social tools add a new dimension to the rich set of communication tools we already possess. Email, telephone, video conference and Instant Messaging, amongst others, are augmented by forums, wikis, blogs and micro-blogging. This new dimension puts conversations and ideas in the public domain. It records and catalogues those discussions and makes retrieving articles easier than searching through your email archive or trying to recall a phone conversation.

There are several stages in the process lifecycle where social technology can have a real impact on collaboration. Marco Brambilla draws an excellent picture of how these technologies can impact the lifecycle in his article “Social BPM: motivation and impact on the BPM lifecycle”. But if Social is to influence BPM as an approach, as much as it does technology, then collaboration must continue to take place across all mediums including traditional forms of communication.

Starting at the initial capture of process, in my experience, nothing is better than doing this in real time with key stakeholders and end users. But simply running a live workshop is not enough. Process has to be captured in a way that is instantly recognisable to the participants. It should really be done live in a capture application as this format will be presented back to the participants later on, they need to recognise it, instantly.

The notation you use is not important; it’s how you use it that’s important. To be social it has to be inclusive, to be inclusive it has to be recognisable to everyone present. To me the best approach is a goal based approach to capture. This is useful for several reasons; getting people to realize why they are doing something is often more important than how or what. This is where you can identify value add, it’s the interface between people and teams and if your stakeholders are not aligned on this then this is great place to get them aligned.

Goal focused workshops are exhilarating. This is because there is normally something for everyone. It’s not a case of documenting the knowledge stored in someone’s head then spending hours poring over it to find inefficiencies and errors. It’s about everyone agreeing what they are trying to achieve, as a result many process issues are solved right there and then by the people responsible for executing them. Best practice is created by those that practice.

It’s Only Social if it Has Cute Fluffy Kittens, Right?

In order to advance an approach to Social BPM I want to describe what Social means to me. As a long time user of news groups, communities, open-source projects, forums, wikis and now even a Facebooker I have taken great pleasure in sharing ideas with people and have learnt an enormous amount along the way. These social and collaborative tools have helped me make friends and find answers to the questions of the day. I learnt how to swap out the gear box of my car and replace it with another from a completely different model thanks to an Alfa Romeo news group in the early nineties.

Many of these things did not conform entirely to what I call social today but they did contain some important aspects that have brought us to where we are. For a start they were collaborative, I asked a question and a member of the community answered. Another would chip in, I’d have some counter questions and together we would arrive at a solution. But getting to that point wasn’t easy, I didn’t have an internet connected machine at home, I did this at the local college. The modem dialed into a server in another country and the Usenet client was a command line interface. It required a lot of trial and error just to get connected to the newsgroup before I could even post my question or read replies from last time.

There was another aspect to this, it empowered me to change the gear box myself, something I would not have been able to do as I couldn’t even source a replacement before posting on the newsgroup. With my new found knowledge I was able help other enthusiasts out with similar issues, albeit several years later on a much more usable forum!

Roll forward nearly 20 years and much has changed. I can ask this question in seconds, wherever I am, across multiple places at once. I can take a photo of the item and upload it and I receive responses instantly, either in the palm of my hand or on the screen of my laptop. When carrying out the work I can video it, or take a series of photos, and upload those for other people who wish to complete the same work.

For me social-xxx means 3 things:

  • Collaboration – the ability to work with people, either synchronously or asynchronously, across continents and time zones to reach a common goal.
  • Empowerment – the ability to do things that I previously could not and to offer what I had learnt back to the community.
  • Usability – the great after thought and yet the first impression, for something to be truly social it has to be usable, only then can it be truly inclusive.

Tack Social on to anything and you can see how it has the ability to transform; Social Networking, Social Media, Social Learning and Social BPM. Of course tomorrow everything will be social.

For those who came here to see something cute I offer this. When our son was taking his first tentative steps my wife recorded it on her Smart phone. Within minutes this was uploaded to the internet. The link was published on several networks and emailed to family and friends. Within hours everyone within our personal social network was able to share the experience. Enjoy!

Is Social BPM over already?

If you haven’t already read it take a look at Adam Deane’s take on Social BPM. As he points out, current vendors have added social capability to traditional BPM products and now we’re waiting to see what happens. There are a few vendors reporting some interesting behavior developing among their users which is encouraging. But Adam’s conclusion, which I agree with whole heartedly, is that if ‘Social BPM’ is helping BPM become more widely adopted then that’s a good thing.

There are others out there that claim the conversation has moved on. That social is about empowerment and BPM does anything but empower workers (Max Pucher). Or that BPM represents a Newtonian view of organizational management that is being replaced by the quantum organization (Keith Swenson). In this view ‘social’ and ‘BPM’ cannot co-exist, a completely new form of work organization is required as embodied by Adaptive Case Management (ACM).

I agree with this view, to a point. I am beginning to understand ACM and the benefits it brings but I do not believe BPM is a lost cause, or that Social BPM is not a relevant approach. The problem lies in the definition of BPM. Even within a well-established and mature industry it is difficult to get consensus. But that’s not the problem; the problem is in the way that BPM is seen as a constant. That what BPM meant in the year 2000 is the same as it means today and the same as it will mean tomorrow.

The fact is Business, Process and Management are three words open to interpretation. As BPM vendors add new functionality and explore new areas they are constantly changing its meaning. When BPM practitioners find new and innovative ways to deliver more value from BPM projects they are changing what BPM means for them and their clients.

Like management practices in general we are constantly learning new ways to apply BPM, some work and some don’t. Some approaches work better for some organizations than others. This is one of the things that makes work exciting for us as practitioners, the chance to innovate and create something new no matter how small that change may seem at the time. The bottom line is BPM can and is changing and making BPM more social has to be a good thing.

For this reason I believe that Social BPM as an approach is valid although it may not have been fully defined yet. I am excited about ACM and believe it is part of the future but ACM, BPM and SocialBPM are different things and there is potential for each to play its own role in the future organization. Is Social BPM over already? No, it’s just getting started.