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So my challenge did elicit some good discussion, and also the note on Taylorism on the following post (thanks Regis :-)) prompted some further thinking on my part.

Firstly, and I think most importantly dear readers, although we may differ on our definitions of BPM, you need to understand my definition to ensure that you understand my thoughts. And I think from reading some of the comments  we are at odds as to the scope of the topic on which we’re trying to communicate!!

“communication is not what you say, it’s what the other person hears…”

Max’s reply to one of the comments on his blog illustrates this nicely:

“…what I see from Social being tacked onto orthodox BPMS today I wonder how that would happen with all the complexity and bureaucracy needed ….”

I however, am NOT talking about BPMS; I am NOT restricting my use of the term ‘process’ or ‘BPM’ to mean just the automation of processes.

I blogged here about it so I won’t repeat myself in detail, suffice it to say that in my mind BPM should mean exactly what it says; Business Process Management, i.e:

“the management of all of an organization’s processes”

NOT  something like this which (euphemistically) appears to be most people’s definition:

“management of those processes that we can automate in some kind of system, typically called a BPMS”

Clearly the second definition is a subset of the first, but also implies much more structure (a transactional IT system) and is what I think Max and other commentators rail against when they talk about the rigidity of the systems.

Let’s also pick up the comment about Taylorism above. As a brief FYI it was considered to be the first real attempt to apply science to management thinking, had apparent influences from reductionism and suffered from a similar backlash (as did scientific reductionism) as evidenced by Regis’ comment.

However, as in most things in life, a black and white perspective doesn’t serve us here as there is no question that a certain amount of reductionism in analysis and Taylorism in design is extremely useful in creating more efficient business processes. Indeed these  ideas have without doubt had an enormous impact in improving operational efficiency over the last century.

The big question (;-)) however is how much to apply to which processes in an organization. Max, I think we disagree on some things however on this we can totally agree;

“I propose the best businesses are those where the innovative powers come from within and from the bottom of the hierarchy – from its people!

and therefore building process structures that stifle people’s innovation and ideas are worse than useless.

However, (again black-and-white thinking doesn’t serve us) to therefore say that standardization is blanket wrong is unthinking dogma driven from principle, rather than the informed result of some sensible thinking.

The Customer Operations Director of Best Buy Europe said;

“Standardization liberates people”

meaning that removing the operational pain of not having the easy, standard process information to hand about how to do things , directly related to the Customer Journey, freed people up and gave them more time to interact better with their customers. The results have been not short of astonishing in terms of Customer Satisfaction scores, volume of sales etc, as I mentioned in the original ‘argument‘ post

Standardization therefore doesn’t disempower people, on the contrary, if done right, it empowers them!

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3 Comments

  1. Great post, Mark. As Best Buy Europe/Carphone Warehouse accepted their Gartner Award at the Baltimore BPM Summit, they told us their people were “liberated” from the drudgery of doing the basic things so that they could provide differentiated and creative customer service.

  2. Totally agree: ‘Standardization liberates people from thinking on their own.’ And how will that improve my customer service?

    I will not disagree that providing knowlegde about how a process COULD be performed is of great help to those who need to interact, as long as they have the freedom to execute at will, save for a few regulatory demands. But then how is THAT knowledge when someone performs a well performing process made transparent and audited? If people find it hard to describe how they do processes and why when asked, they have even less interest to document how they actually performed a process.

    That is however the main reason for companies to enforce processes, so that they have a documented performance. The problem is that processes and their changes are then executed OUTSIDE the BPMS domain and fail to be accessible by others and auditors.

    That is why I propose to provide the performer with authority, goals and means, supplied through a BPMS that provides an architectured data and content model, but enables people to perform at will, once again save some mandatory rules. That is my definition of ADAPTIVE processes.

  3. Dear Mark,

    Thank you for the post. As a matter of fact, when I read articles or books on BPM(S), I have noticed that most of the energy is concentrated on processes (obviously), control, performance, ROI, new tech. etc… but human aspects of operating workers are little considered. However, I have also noticed that in the real world, human aspects are of paramount importance. So, I will argue on favor of a limited and equilibrated amount of standartization; on the behalf of a constructive blog and the first concerned people by BPM(S), that is, operating people :-).

    Sure a black and white perspective does not serve us. Clear that standartization is useful. However, isn’t it a bit optimistic when you say that standartization (if done right) empowers people, in the sense, it gives them freedom (the ability to make choices) ? Indeed, we may have an obvious paradox here. If a worker has to follow some standartized processes, the choices are reduced to follow it or not. In reality, BPMS workflows are often rather rigid, and as a consequence, workers are not at all liberated. Now, I understand that you say standartization empowers people because they can concentrate on other activities (which may have not been standartized yet), and I think it is an optimistic view. I wonder: in reality, what is the amount of non-standartized activities remaining for concerned workers?

    Furthermore, I wonder about scenarios where events evolved in such a way that they not conform to the standartized processes. Now, the responsable worker (already bored with these standartized processes) does not conform to a process inadapted to reality. When someone does not conform to the rules, she or he may feel in a bad position (depends on the profile :-). In the worse case, the person could be even “punished” if the non-conformity or violation is notified. In order to avoid the punishment, the person hides the non-conformity or the violation, and the standard will remain unchanged though it is not well adapted to the complexity of reality. What an absurd situation!

    Plus other classic cases:
    – standartized processes are imposed to the workers. That may have very bad psychological consequences.
    – standards are so bureaucratic that they slow down the substantial activities in a such a point that all becomes absurd.

    I like the idea of Max’s adaptive process. Do such BPMS exist?

    Best regards.


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