Everyone knows automation leads to consistent outputs.
Given a mostly linear process where steps can be performed by machines it makes good sense to automate. Of course, the decision to automate should be backed up by an ROI that turns positive within a respectable timeframe and once a commitment has been made to a particular initiative, stakeholders have to stay the course or the stated benefits may not be achieved.
If we change the scenario to one where the process is no longer linear, where a fair number of the steps require human input, where different skills are required for the performance of different steps, where steps are connected in complex ways and where there are numerous branching decision points along workflows, automation of the “work” becomes a less attractive strategy.
The management methodology called Business Process Management (BPM) is effective for automating work except for work that must performed by knowledge workers. Here, Adaptive Case Management (ACM) does a better job of because it does not rely on pre-mapping steps that make up an initiative.
Whereas in BPM both the steps and their interconnections must be mapped out in templates, in advance, in order to transform inputs into outputs, ACM accommodates ad hoc interventions and puts the focus on tracking progress toward the achievement of goals. In ACM, the steps, their interconnections and their timing is left up to knowledge workers.
Since both BPM and ACM have as their fundamental objective the transformation of inputs to outputs to yield deliverables (goods or services, it does not matter), it’s not surprising to find proponents of each methodology taking up defensive positions on which approach works best for what.
Clearly, if we classify work according to the degree of automation (i.e. 95%/5% structured versus unstructured at one end of the scale, compared to 5%/95% structured versus unstructured at the other end), we are likely to see more BPM for 95%/5% work and more ACM for 5%/95% work. But, what about closer to the middle – which methodology is best for a mix of 50%/50% structured work versus unstructured work?
How about a methodology called ACM/BPM where we encourage everyone to focus on reaching goals using ad hoc interventions where appropriate and using “best practice” workflows where appropriate? ACM enthusiasts will have no problem with this, nor will BPM enthusiasts.
Wait a minute! What’s with “encourage”? Will this not lead to some people following best practices whilst others get the notion that some best practices are not good enough and cannot be followed?
Yes, this does lead to work being done in different ways but the marriage of ACM/BPM brings together “Case Management” from ACM and auto-resource allocation, leveling and balancing from BPM and if you think about it EVERYONE routinely handles a varying mix of structured and unstructured work.
Each day we go to work, be it at a physical office or a virtual office, we attend to our fixed-time appointments (structured work) and between appointments we work on To-Do List items (unstructured work). Like it or not, we have all been doing ACM/BPM all of the time.
Given a proper ACM/BPM User Interface that allows work to be organized at a User Calendar (for structured tasks) and at a User InTray (for unstructured work), we have only to look at our Calendars for fixed-time appointments and look at our To-Do List. Events post to our calendars, tasks post to our To-Do List.
And here comes the Eureka!
With a setup as described, we get to the remarkable position where it’s all about tasks, not structured tasks versus unstructured tasks and if your User Interface has a Calendar on one side and a To-Do List on the other, you can handle 100% of your work at ONE screen with no need for navigation (ACM/BPM in the background will take care of any and all required navigation).
And the bottom line with a setup like this is management gets to where they understand that it’s not tasks that need managing but rather handoffs of tasks across people, thereby accommodating a shift away from doing the wrong things the wrong way to doing the right things the right way.
I encourage you to read this post over a few times, it took me about 10 years to figure all of this out.