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Posts Tagged ‘business rules’

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

Haven’t We Been Here Before? – Part I of II

June 28th, 2009 No comments

The Insurance industry is a fascinating ecosystem. Not so much the products as the actual business model and problems the companies face. I’ve had the fortune to work with all manner of carriers (Health, Life and assorted other segments) over the past ten years, and been able to observe the similarities and the differences across those segments. I’ve always been on the outside, a solution provider looking in, trying to better understand the business problems facing the various companies I’ve worked with. And in that time I’ve worked for a number of different software companies spanning disciplines like Content Management, Configuration and Rules, and Business Process Management, each of which experienced some degree of success in one of the many segments of the Insurance industry.

Spend enough time in the software business and you might start to feel like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day”, doomed to repeat the same day over and over. I recall trying to help a Health insurer find a way to simplify the enrollment process (both individual and group) back in the late 90’s with a configuration and rules solution. And then I was in the same situation again around 2004 but this time with an enterprise content management company. Not surprisingly, I discussed a similar business problem again recently.

In each of these projects there were challenges meeting specific functional needs. The challenges varied based on the focus of the software we were using to craft the solution. For example, when using a rules-based technology to define the enrollment process it was difficult to do anything more than track the status of a particular application using an attribute which limited visibility into the actual process. Using the electronic forms capabilities of most traditional content management solutions didn’t quite get us there because the enrollment wasn’t about the document itself but rather about the customer and all their supporting information housed in many other systems. And most pure-play BPM solutions ignore paper entirely and focus on the process definition, glossing over the challenge that the content itself presents. And these same problems apply not just for enrollment but for many other core processes as well.

The difficulties inherent in using any one of these individual technologies might seem fairly obvious in hindsight. So what was it that prevented the teams (both the customers and software provider) from knowing that in advance? I believe it’s a phenomenon that I think of as a perception bias, the idea that we all see the world and the problems we are presented based on our past experience and from within our sometimes limited frame of reference. The phrase “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” comes to mind. This mode of thinking unfortunately forces a high degree of customization in order for the solution to be implemented.

Despite the hurdles each project team faced, all of the projects were ultimately successful. Maybe not as wildly so as the return on investment calculations predicted, but each one rolled out and enjoyed a period of success. Still, I’ve heard over time that some of those solutions have since been replaced, and in some cases replaced again, each time with a different technology solution. Which brings me back to the title of this post, haven’t we been here before?

I have a theory how we can avoid repeating today again tomorrow that I’ll share in my next posting. Until that point, I’d be interested in your feedback and thoughts.

Categories: Insurance Industry