You probably didn’t notice…

February 18th, 2011 No comments

… but I changed the title and tag line for this blog. There are two primary reasons for this, one personal and one professional.

First the personal. I’ve decided to expand the scope from just work to a few choice personal items. The one that you’ll see the most of for the next several months is related to the Tough Mudder New England, a challenge I’ve taken on to raise money for Children’s Hospital Boston. I may throw in an article on other topics here and there as well, so some of the posts will be less about BPM and Case Management and more about life in general. And so, the randomness of the blog drives the title to a degree (because the posts will occasionally be sort of random).

On the work front, I chose the title “Practically Unpredictable” because it reflects my belief that many of the core business processes we deal with day-in and day-out are just about always unpredictable. So rather than strictly taking about process improvement, I though the title should reflect the biggest challenges we face in business.

So there you have it. Hope you enjoy the expanded content and that you aren’t chased away by the random topics here and there. Thanks for reading!

Categories: Miscellaneous

Running the Gauntlet

February 18th, 2011 No comments

I’ve been pretty good about training this first week. The program I follow starts on Mondays because most marathons are run on Sunday. Where I’m running the Tough Mudder on a Saturday, I moved the start back to Sunday, so I effectively ‘start’ my week with a long run and then do medium length runs, cross training and strength training during the week. So this week I ran 4 miles on Sunday (long run for the week), stretched on Monday, and then just under and over 3 miles on Tuesday and Thursday respectively. I was supposed to do a cross-training day on Wednesday but work and contractors in the house made that easily skippable (notice I didn’t say impossible, I just got lazy).

So what, you might ask, does this have to do with the title of the blog posting? Well, one of the obstacles I face is called the Gauntlet. You can see all the obstacles on the course map, but I thought I’d describe a couple of them as I trained.

The Gauntlet reads as “Prepare to feel like you’re at a South American political demonstration as you get high pressure hosed from both sides as you run through Mount Snow’s half pipe.” For those of you who haven’t been skiing or snowboarding recently, picture a pipe, cut in half, and laid down the slope of the hill with the U facing upwards. It’s used by snowboarders and skiers to perform insane tricks at high velocity. The one I’m most familiar with at Loon Mountain in NH is about 15′ high on the sides, probably 60′ across, and several hundred feet long. Which means I’ll be running through a giant trench, probably uphill, while sadistic volunteers hose me down with fire hoses. Clearly I’m going to want to get out of there as fast as possible (although there’s more obstacles after that so why rush to the next?!?!) To make matters worse, this particular one is nearer to the end, so I should be good and exhausted by the time I get there, making it damn near impossible to get through this in a timely fashion.

Dare I say “yay”? So, when I start running during the week, whining about having to get out on the road, I think back to the Gauntlet and realize that I’d better work my tail off because I have a lot of endurance to build up. Otherwise I might get stuck in South America….

Categories: Charity

Training begins in earnest

February 15th, 2011 No comments

Running up a hill, small by comparison to the one I’ll be running up on May 7th, wind roaring like a freight train, my light running jacket snapping in the wind like the stars and stripes, I wonder to myself “why am I doing this?!” I’m gasping for air through the neck / face warmer I wear snowboarding because it’s only 25F and that’s before the windchill sets in. Oh, and I feel like I’m going to toss my cookies on this very short three-mile run.

I’m a cigar-smokin’, vodka drinkin’, motorcycle ridin’, software geek. I’m not a runner. By any stretch. Forget that I’ve run two marathons, I’m not built for this. At least that’s what’s going through my mind in the moment. But then I think back to how lucky I was that Children’s Hospital was around, and to what an absolutely amazing experience the NYC Marathon was in 2007, and I gradually re-focus on the end goal, running 10 miles and completing 22 obstacles at the Tough Mudder New England at Mount Snow in an effort to raise some money for Children’s.

I’ve trained in fits and starts over the past couple months since I signed up in November, but this week I finally got a schedule together and have started running regularly. Ok, so two days in the first week doesn’t quite classify as running regularly, but really, I will. And so, as I promised, I’m going to share some of my training thoughts here on the blog. Check back here regularly to see what I’m doing (and feel free to comment when I’m not doing enough).

And finally, if you can spare a couple dollars, head on over to my fundraising page here. Thanks to those of you who’ve already contributed we’re at $650 on a $2500 goal. I greatly appreciate all of your generosity.

Categories: Charity

Labels, labels, everywhere…

November 17th, 2010 1 comment

Human nature forces people to simplify, to identify items, categorize them, and to put a label on them. I see this when my wife’s rescue organization (Echo Dogs White Shepherd Rescue) gets a new foster dog. “Oh, that looks like a white german shepherd crossed with a yorkie”.

Romeo

Romeo

Do I really know that Romeo (don’t ask) is has Yorkie in him? No, not for sure. But I look at him and see that he’s certainly part WGS and has a shorter nose and curly, downy fur, so I sort through my mental pictures of dog breeds and come back with a touch of Yorkie. In the future, once he’s found a “forever” home (in rescue terms), I’ll remember him using that mix because that makes it easier for me to recall a picture of him.

I often see this phenomenon manifested in enterprise software through the evaluation and purchasing cycles, typically in the form of “I need an XYZ system to solve this problem.” Ironically, software vendors and analysts often compound the problem through labeling of software solutions. Think of all the Three Letter Acronyms (TLAs) that you might or might not be familiar with: CRM, ERP, BPM(S), ECM, CEP, BPA, BTM, CAS, BRM(S). Why do we, as members of the community, do this to ourselves and to our customers? More often than not it’s out of a desire to explain that something we have is different than the rest of the solutions out there.

Take Adaptive Case Management as an example. Case Management has been around for quite some time in paper and electronic format, and people who do it understand the concept. However the latest generation of solutions represent a huge step forward in terms of user empowerment, flexibility and productivity. So do you call that Case Management? Or come up with a new term like Adaptive (WfMC), Dynamic (Forrester) or something else entirely (various marketing departments)? For the sake of emphasis, an evolutionary name like Adaptive Case Management is intended to say “hey, this is still Case Management as you’ve known it, but significantly more powerful. And for those of you who don’t manage cases, well, this still might help you because it’s about improving knowledge worker productivity, something many businesses face.”

No sooner do you refer to something that is vaguely familiar with a new name then the religious wars start. “BPM can do that and ACM is a naughty boy.” “Case Management is just a part of my CRM solution.” “No, it has documents so it’s part of Enterprise Content Management.” “We’ve had that and ERP and TPS reports in one solution forever, in fact we invented it!” Not only that but the poor individual who says “gee, I think I have something different here” is strapped to the mast and given 50 lashes!

If I were speaking now rather than writing, and in person rather than behind a keyboard, you’d see I write this with mirth in my voice and a smile on my face rather than frustration and a frown. After all, this IS human nature we’re dealing with here, so it’s completely understandable that people react the way they do.

However there is a real problem with all of these TLAs, which is that they are labels, (il)logical groupings of capabilities created to make it easier to identify solutions to what are perceived as common problems. Do most companies really care what technology is used to drive performance improvements or to realize cost savings? Not in my mind, no. What they care about is that the tools they put in front of their employees, customers and partners don’t handicap their ability to get their job done.

The question I have is how to get around alphabet soup and simply identify and communicate the value of a solution to a business problem? Any thoughts?

Categories: Case Management

The beginning of a long road

November 11th, 2010 No comments

Those of you who have known me for a few years might remember that I ran the NYC Marathon in 2007 with the goal of raising money for Boston Children’s Hospital. The short version of the story is that through the kindness of friends and strangers alike, Children’s received almost $9,000. I held up my end of the deal by finishing in 4 hours and 23 minutes (plus or minus). Not bad considering that my time in 2003 was 4:59 and I was 4 years older (and rounder). All things considered I was very happy with the results since I’m not exactly built like a marathoner.

About a week ago I signed up for the Tough Mudder New England, to be held on May 7, 2011 at Mount Snow in Vermont. You can read more about the event here. I honestly don’t know what got into me, I’m so far from being in the shape I need to be in order to finish the event. I guess age, ego and a desire to do something notable. Perhaps more importantly, I’ll be running for Children’s again. My goal is to raise $2,500 at a minimum, although I do have a secret “stretch” goal (sorry, can’t tell you yet).

If you’re feeling generous, or maybe even if you’re not, feel free to head on over to my fundraising page at the Children’s Hospital site. All the money raised goes to pay for some of the best pediatric care available in the world, and many times helps those that wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford care at all.

I’ll tell you more about why I’m doing this shortly, but that’s a topic for another day. In the mean time, I’ve started training this week, and let me tell you, it’s a good thing it’s a long time between now and the event, I need every day of it.

Categories: Charity

The Pride of the (Knowledge) Worker

September 14th, 2010 No comments

A large part of my day to day work involves helping to set product direction and strategy. Like most folks in my role, I’d like to believe that the products I help drive are the product of more than just “ivory tower” thinking. There’s a universe of sources that factor into how a product is developed and enhanced, everything from internal customer-facing organizations (sales, services, support), our partners who offer value above and beyond our core solutions, and industry analysts with an eye to the future.

We also spend a good amount of time doing user research with customers and prospects. The former are valuable as we observe how they actually use the products they use on a day-to-day basis. The latter, while not users of our solutions, provide critical insight into how our products stack up to the competition, and in some cases why we might not have been selected. The research process itself is complicated, but you can think of it as having two phases; observational where we literally watch people work, and testing where we take graphic and user-interaction designs created from the first phase and see how the participants react to them.

In the observational phase we sit with users, preferably with an audio / video recording setup, and we simply watch and ask questions. We do our absolute best to get an unfiltered view of how the users do their work (recognizing that by studying the usage we risk changing it). It can be entertaining to see different peoples’ reactions to the interview process. Some are completely unaffected, others shy and withdrawn, some even extremely uncomfortable to the point of asking us not to tape them.

As you might expect, we get to observe all manner of workers; from customer service representatives who answer customer calls all day, to the people who run the mail-room and scanning operations, to department manager and team leads, to underwriters, actuaries, lawyers, and analysts.

Right out of the gate, I mentioned the “ivory tower” thinking that gets corporate types in trouble. Think of someone locked in their tower (corporate headquarters) looking down on the land (their customers and market) and making decisions about product direction from afar. While a certain amount of autonomous thinking and product strategy is important, a connection with the world is equally so.

I had this point hammered home almost immediately as I was immersed into product and user research. See, as “automate and improve” types, we are often taught to believe that every worker involved in a business process needs to be told what to do and is limited to doing that work assigned by their manager or team lead. Extrapolating that point, one might assume that measurement of productivity is necessary to enforce good working habits. In some rare cases, this is true, but almost to an individual, what I’ve witnessed are people who are conscientious and truly care about their jobs and their performance. They take pride in their accomplishments, and they are competitive with their colleagues.

This realization has resulted in a focus on personal analytics, communications and mentoring capabilities as part of our solutions. The reason? People like to understand how they are doing, get feedback, communicate their wants and needs, and generally feel like individuals rather than cogs in a machine. This individuality and pride is only increasing as we see more end-to-end responsibility for work (as opposed to assembly line thinking), and as more and more jobs qualify as “knowledge work.” Look for this pride in your workers and see if you can’t help them feel more valued, you might be surprised as to the return on your effort.

Categories: Case Management

Tweetjam on Adaptive Case Management last week

July 21st, 2010 1 comment

I hope those of you in the Twitterverse who are interested in knowledge work and adaptive case management had a chance to participate in the tweetjam on ACM with the authors of “Mastering the Unpredictable”  If you did, outstanding!  If not, you should be able to find a couple of related blog posts about the content, and you can always search Twitter for the hashtag #acmjam (here).

All in all, I think it was a successful step in education around the benefits of ACM, however, I agree with Jacob Ukelson that it was a touch more “tech” than “business” at times (you can read his thoughts here).  Still, the response overall was quite positive and I for one was excited by the passion and enthusiasm most of the participants showed.

Some of my favorite tweets were:

ronaldrotteveel: @maxjpucher I think it’s mainly out of fear. ACM requires you to give your workforce more or even total empowerment. #acmjam
piewords: The fluidity in the working of a case must be captured & categorized to be leveraged as a resource for future cases. #acmjam
piewords: If you approach solving ACM from a #BPM angle, you will fail. Start in the middle with person working the Case, then move outward. #acmjam
passion4process: Companies will likely have a continuum of processes that span structured and unstructured #acmjam
mishodikov: You can model anything. Is the model accurate is a different story…RT @ActionBase: @appian If you can model it, it isn’t an ad-hoc #acmjam
frankkraft: In ACM the knowledge workers themselves standardize, if they agree upon. #acmjam
cmooreforrester: the chaos is often the highest value work we do; but try to standardize as u learn over time RT @tomshepherd: So embrace the chaos? #acmjam

I draw a couple of conclusions from these.  First, and this is pretty critical, is that there is an acknowledgment  that knowledge work, and in fact many of the core business problems companies face, is generally non-repeatable and unpredictable (good thing since the book was title “Mastering the Unpredictable”).

Second is that Adaptive Case Management needs to enable the end-user to adapt, to deal with work as it happens, and to generally exercise their judgement and apply their expertise.  This isn’t shocking to me, I hear it all the time from customers.  The point is that there is a groundswell of interest in the topic of ACM, not because of the vast benefits of the widget of the day, but because there exists a set of problems that either aren’t predictable enough to use existing solutions for, or are too complex and therefore impractical to try and “model” with any success.

I’ll wrap it up with another good tweet from Clay Richardson of Forrester:
passion4process: My take: ACM is credible and extends capabilities of BPM approach, but clear methodology needs to be defined to make it work #acmjam

Totally agree, and that’s the focus of my presentation on “Adapting to Case Management”, found here.
Categories: BPM, Case Management

Lots of good discussion on Case Management

June 16th, 2010 No comments

Just because I’m not writing enough doesn’t mean others aren’t!  Two good conversations started this week discussing some of the differences between Case Management and BPM.  Give them a read, then dive in and join the conversation!

First at Adam Deane’s blog, “Case Management is ECM not BPM” with comments from Phil Ayres of Consected and Max J Pucher of ISIS-Papyrus.

Second on the eBizQ forum “What is the Difference Between Case Management and BPM?”, including a great comment from my co-author Keith Swenson of “Mastering the Unpredictable” fame.

Good stuff, keep it coming!

Categories: Case Management

Adapting to Case Management

May 6th, 2010 4 comments

At the request of Keith Swenson, I created a SlideCast of my presentation from the Process.gov event in April 2010. The basic premise is that Adaptive Case Management is as much about approach as it is about technology. I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section below!

Categories: Case Management

Predictability, Practicality and Passion

April 20th, 2010 No comments

The past couple weeks have been all about three P’s; Predictability, Practicality, and Passion.

    Predictability

You might have heard that the new Adaptive Case Management (ACM) book, “Mastering the Unpredictable,” was launched last week. One of the primary tenets of ACM is that knowledge work is unpredictable. This has generated a surprising amount of discussion and, in many cases, disagreement. Keith Swenson asked recently for every blog to have a glossary, which is a fantastic idea and one that I’ll get around to in the future. For now though, let me clarify what I’m saying when I use the term unpredictable.

Here’s what Reference.com defines predict:

–verb (used with object)
1. to declare or tell in advance; prophesy; foretell: to predict the weather; to predict the fall of a civilization.

–verb (used without object)
2. to foretell the future; make a prediction.

And using that, here’s how Reference.com defines unpredictable.

-adjective
1. not predictable; not to be foreseen or foretold: an unpredictable occurrence.
–noun
2. something that is unpredictable: the unpredictables of life.

Doesn’t that second one violate the whole rule about not using a word to define itself? In any case, the root word, predict, is what I’m focusing on here, and the first definition is the most important. The reality of many business processes is that you simply cannot predict with a high degree of certainty the order of events. Yes, you can approximate the order of the “happy path”, the path most often taken, in some scenarios. And yes, you can likely come to some distilled version of the process through a lot of compromise. But in the end, many of the problems that knowledge workers face need to be flexible enough that trying to predefine them via a process map is an exercise in futility. I say this not because I don’t believe in structured processes, but because I believe in the right tool for the right task, and structured processes are often too rigid. I’m sure this concept will get some folks up in arms, which is fine because it leads into our next P.

    Passion

What’s been fascinating about watching discussions around the nature of knowledge work is the degree of passion and conviction people display. I referenced a prime example of this between Keith Swenson, one of the co-authors of the ACM book, and JJ Dubray here during my talk last week at Process.gov. I’ll admit that I lost the plot a bit during some of the more theoretical / academic aspects of the conversation. With that said, what I took away from the conversation was two things. First, the fundamental disagreement was around whether it was possible to model the entire universe as a series of states and transitions, effectively predefining and predicting everything (more on this one in a moment). And second was that peoples’ beliefs around approach and theory are deeply rooted and contradictory opinions can evoke very strong responses. Hence, Passion.

Passion is good, because a strong conviction and excitement can be contagious and can help spread knowledge. The most articulate people I know aren’t simply good communicators because they speak and present well, but also because they are passionate about the topics on which the speak. This is one of the reasons I am active in the ACM community, because I feel strongly that applying ACM can make a substantial impact on how companies do business and how people get their jobs done more effectively.

Where passion goes wrong is when belief in a singular concept or approach drives people to close their eyes to alternatives. I say this not thinking about process improvement alone, but also about life in general. I’m reminded of a favorite book that I read a few years back, “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson, M.D. It’s not really about passion per se, but rather about change in general. There’s a preview of the video for the book here that’s worth a quick watch if you haven’t read the book (or even if you have).

My point is that as ACM evolves, peoples’ world views will change. Folks that have invested significant time and energy into things like BPMN and various process modeling tools may not immediately gravitate towards ACM because at some level it requires a shift in approach. We won’t all agree all the time, but my hope is that over time, these discussions will help people see the value that an ACM approach can offer. Which brings me to the final P for today, Practicality.

    Practicality

I’ll be posting a screencast of my presentation from Process.gov in a couple of days, but one of the themes I focused on was practicality. Through all of the discussion of predictability and structured / unstructured, there is one theme that I see that I think is most important. It’s simply not practical to predefine every possible choice or event for complex business problems. Sure, you probably could get to a fully predefined, rules-driven process map, but at what cost? My preference is to structure and control what can be, but provide capabilities to deal with the variability of business instead of spending months of time and excessive amounts of money to implement a “perfect” system that will, in all likelihood, soon be out of date. More on this concept in my slidecast, which I’ll post later this week or early next.

So, with that, thoughts? Comments? Criticisms? Suggestions or experiences?

Categories: BPM, Case Management