Posts Tagged ‘knowledge work’

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