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Will social BPM supercharge BPM?

[In reply to a discussion started by Peter Schooff on eBizQ this week: As Ian Gotts blogged, Supercharged research on Social BPM from Gartner, Elise Olding from Gartner recently declared that social BPM will supercharge BPM.  Do you agree?]

What a timely coincidence, having just finished a 2 week session on “social(-ized?)” BPM with several clients. What we did was rather banal but surprisingly effective as we used our Process TestLab to let line-of-business people validate the project results for new processes.

These folks would normally have their first contact with a new process during training (if they’re lucky enough to be provided with process training) or during the ‘going live’ phase – in any case way too late to use their expertise for changes or improvements.

Result of these validation sessions: Participants identified a large number of process areas either requiring change or at least offering room for improvement. In the beginning they were hesitant in pointing out ‘process defects’, fearing that comments would be regarded as criticism of the projects. But as it turned out, they used their non-project background to come up with issues the project teams could not have known about. In this sense social BPM offers the best of both worlds – project and goal perspective plus the knowledge, experience and input from the daily business. And let’s not forget that early involvement goes a long way to gaining acceptance.

But, but, but …as always there’s a danger of being too something – too social in this case. Do we need participation from all interested parties at all times during design, implementation and operation? In other words, do we want the social aspect all across the complete lifecycle or only on dedicated milestones for example post-design and prior implementation?

My view would be that we need to become more social where it helps. But let’s not overreach and hold company-wide opinion polls during process design and implementation. Social in the sense of making room for qualified input is fine, process anarchy is not.

Assuming that ‘social’ implies participation from interested parties, the difficulties already start to set in when it comes to process perspective.

Take the usual control flow and people will usually only be able to interpret and evaluate the task their role has been assigned (modelled) to. The personal, subjective perspective of an individual of the different processes he may be involved in is not reflected in standard process models.

Therein lies one of the challenges for social BPM: aligning individual and subjective process perception with our usual abstract way of process description. There are a small number of approaches emerging that are picking up on this issue (google S-BPM for ‘subject-oriented BPM’ as an example) but there’s still a long way to go.

We should also keep in mind that over a long time we’ve tried to establish BPM as a ‘hard science’, based on facts, integrated or at least supported by IT. Many will have difficulties in combining that view with an understanding that processes are by nature based on interaction and communication and that any improvement to these ’soft’ aspects will actually make for better processes. Quite apart from the fact that process communication skills are somewhat underdeveloped in most enterprises.

Process awareness is a good starting point towards social BPM but with more than 50% of employees unable to explain their tasks in the context of a process (result of a survey we conducted over the last year), what would people actually talk about? There’s still a lot of ground to be covered before BPM and social BPM can deliver on their promises.

You might also like to read:

BPM: How training programs reflect growing process awareness

PTL: A closer look at some recent test results

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2 Comments

  1. [...] our previous post I referred to an internal survey and some of the results which led me to question the current basis [...]

  2. [...] Social BPM – Thomas J. Olbrich Process awareness is a good starting point towards social BPM but with [...]

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