Posts Tagged ‘business process management’

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”.



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 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 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.


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 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 defines unpredictable.

1. not predictable; not to be foreseen or foretold: an unpredictable occurrence.
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.


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 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.


I’ll be posting a screencast of my presentation from 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

“Mastering the Unpredictable” launch

April 12th, 2010 No comments

This week we launch “Mastering the Unpredictable” at the event in Reston, VA. The official site for the book is live at, and you should be able to order the book on Amazon shortly. A full description of the book can be found on the site, but here’s a snippet:

The facilitation of knowledge work or what is increasingly known as “Case Management” represents the next imperative in office automation. The desire to fully support knowledge workers within the workplace is not new. What’s new is that recent advances in Information Technology now make the management of unpredictable circumstances a practical reality. There’s now a groundswell of interest in a more flexible, dynamic approach to supporting knowledge work.

The collection of authors represents a broad cross section of industry experts in the fields of Adaptive Case Management and Business Process Management. The foreword for the book was written by Connie Moore, Research Vice President, of Forrester, who states that “I think a sea change is coming in the process world.”

The chapter I wrote is titled “Moving from Anticipation to Adaptation” and discusses the fundamental shift from predefined business process models required by conventional model-centric BPM to a new world of adapting to business in real time. Here’s the official description of the chapter:

Using examples of work from an insurance company, the qualities of emergent processes are examined to find that they are constantly changing. To handle this, tasks should not be rigidly fixed in an immutable process definition, but instead should be planned as the work proceeds. The planned tasks act as a guardrail to keep you from going off the road accidentally but can be changed as necessary during the work itself. This is the essence of “adaptability,” which guides work and allows the plan to be modified at any time, but it does not enforce a particular pattern.

My colleague Dana Khoyi, Vice President of Development at Global 360, also contributed to the book, writing a chapter “Data Orientation” as well as co-authoring a chapter “Templates, not Programs.”

A special thanks to Keith Swenson who singlehandedly shepherded this project through to completion. Without Keith, none of this would have been happened!

Stop by the launch event in Reston on April 14th and say hi!

Categories: Case Management

It feels like I’m driving a Toyota

March 31st, 2010 2 comments

It feels like the Case Management / BPM world has the accelerator stuck in the “go” position. Now before you jump on me for my poor taste in jokes, let me say that I’m a happy owner of two Toyotas, so I say this in jest. Truth be told, life is getting busier and busier, and it’s a struggle to keep up at times.

First, I’m really excited to announce that the launch of “Mastering the Unpredictable”, a book on Adaptive Case Management that I contributed to, will be at the Process.Gov event in Reston, VA on April 14th. I’ll be attending the event so if you’re there, stop by and say hello.

Second, if you haven’t heard, I was interviewed by Theo Priestly of BPM Redux. We cover a range of topics from the convergence of BPM and CRM to the future of BPM and Case Management. You can read the post here. Thanks to Theo for that, he’s a great resource for all things process-related and someone I highly suggest you look in on (@ProcessTheory on Twitter).

Finally, lot’s of discussions going on about the definition and future of case management. Take a look at blogs from Keith Swenson of Fujitsu, Andrew Smith of One Degree, and Max Pucher of ISIS-Papyrus. My reading list just keeps getting longer!

Categories: BPM, Case Management

Convergence and Case Management

March 16th, 2010 6 comments

Consolidation is a fact of life in the software industry. Large companies buy small companies to round out their capabilities, medium companies merge with other medium companies to provide a more financially stable combined entity, and small players, well, they either get acquired or go out of business. So it comes as no surprise to the business process management (BPM) world that companies like Lombardi and Savvion were acquired by IBM and Progress Software respectively, regardless of whether the suitors were expected or not.

The same could be said of the most recent acquisition in the space, that of Chordiant by Pegasystems. Pega is a powerhouse player who has traditionally been very strong in the Customer Service arena. In hindsight, Chordiant is a very natural extension of that experience and presents a very compelling combined platform for customer experience.

Fascinating times in the BPM market for sure. But the title of this post references convergence, not consolidation, and while the two concepts are related, I’m not talking about acquisitions here. I’m more interested in how several previously distinct markets are coming together around a single new (old) concept called Case Management. Theo Priestly of BPM Redux tweeted today about the blurring of the lines between customer relationship management (CRM), BPM, master data model (MDM) and case management (CM). I’d personally add enterprise content management (ECM), knowledge management (KM) and an emerging category called business process guidance (BPG) to that list as well.

The venn diagram-ish graphic is one that Dana Khoyi of Global 360 and I used during our presentation to the WfMC Case Management Summit in November 2009. The premise is that CM encompasses capabilities from many other traditionally separate disciplines. The relative size of the outer boxes indicates the importance of each of those to our definition of case management. For example, ECM plays a more central role to CM than Rules, although both are critically important. The examples outside the case management box represents aspects of the other disciplines that are either not important or simply less critical to case management.

Case Management Ecosystem

Case Management Ecosystem

While attending the Gartner Portal Content and Collaboration conference (#gartnerpcc on Twitter) last week, I witnessed the “life mimics art” of this diagram coming to life. No matter whether you call it collaboration, knowledge management, social networking, or case management, the ultimate topic of many of the sessions last week revolved around the central tenet of enabling knowledge work and workers. The fascinating aspect of this was that the messages were coming not just from the analysts in attendance but from the vendors, most of whom were in enterprise content management, companies like EMC Documentum, Autonomy and Microsoft (Sharepoint). These are the same concepts we’re hearing from the business process management and customer relationship management communities as well. Combine this vendor side with what we’re seeing from analysts like Toby Bell of Gartner (long time supporter of CEVAs and Composite Content Applications) and Craig LeClair of Forrester (recently writing a paper titled “Case Management – An old idea catches fire”, and it feels like we’re going to see a collision of many different software segments (ECM, CRM, BPM, KM) in the space referred to as Adaptive Case Management (or Dynamic Case Management by Forrester).

I think it’s a great time to be part of this industry. It feels like a new generation of solutions will drive huge value for companies that recognize that they need to embrace the chaos that is knowledge work and provide their employees to help sort through it all. What are your thoughts?

Is Case Management the same as BPM?

September 16th, 2009 No comments

Good thought provoking article on the distinction between Case Management and BPM here. I don’t entirely agree with the conclusion (see the comments there to understand why) but it’s good to see more and more CM discussions happening.

Categories: BPM, Case Management