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Is social BPM akin to putting lipstick on a pig?

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As Ian gotts writes in this blog, Why social technology is lipstick on a pig, simply implementing a social tool in the enterprise (facebook, twitter, yammer) won't help improve business processes sustainably across the business.  It will simply allow subsets of people to "chat" about how they get around the lack of clearly documented processes.

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  • Great blog and commentary as always from Ian.

    However it doesn't go deep enough. The rigid way that BPM, projects and organisational structures are applied stifle creativity and process innovation, I would hope that Social technology/ Social BPM would open this up a little more.

    Great quote from Gabe Newell at Valve Software: "The simple answer is that hierarchy is good for repeatability and measurability, whereas self-organizing networks are better at invention.” meaning that more flexible approaches to process and hierarchical structure would promote innovation and sustainability in a business model.

    Social technology and Social BPM need to be correctly applied and executed, but above all else they need to be correctly understood as extremely powerful change agents not just tools for 'chat' as Ian eludes.

  • The first person to mention 'Lipstick-on-a-pig' in relationship to Social and BPM was Derek Miers of Forrester Resarch at last years Forrester BPM event in Washington DC. I posted about that at the time: http://isismjpucher.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/lipstick-on-a-pig/

    To just add my closeing statement here:
    "Do I discount the use of Social concepts? Not at all. My solution designs all include Social features including Natural Language rules and commands, but before they can be used sensibly, the process environment must move away from rigid flowcharts and into the collaborative umbrella."

  • “Today we see the transformation of both the look and feel of BPM technologies along the lines of social media, as well as the increasing adoption of social tools and techniques democratizing process development and design. It is along these two trend lines; the evolution of system interfaces and the increased engagement of stakeholders in process improvement, that Social BPM has taken shape.

    This book brings you thoughtful and insightful viewpoints from experts worldwide on Social BPM and the role it can play in your own organization.”

    The above quote, from the new WfMC Handbook, is about Social BPM - see http://www.ebizq.net/blogs/it_directions/2011/05/wfmc_handbook_on_social_bpm.php - and is a good resource if you want to find out more about it.

  • "Lipstick on a pig" has been applied to social BPM in the same way that "Paving the cowpath" was applied to other BPM solutions that didn't treat a BPM project as a multi-year, never ending, hugely expensive, enterprise implementation of technology.

    I still believe that there is a strong need for organizations to see a quick win, and sometimes that does require just some cosmetic changes to operations. That doesn't mean that you can't allow, or expect change along the way. Technology doesn't let you continue to run in an inconsistent and uncaring way, just with software. It helps you gain consistency and quality by forcing people to act in certain ways, even if the process is still a cowpath or the communication of complex operations is still a pig.

    The requirement, as Ian suggests and Theo reinforces, is that social BPM must assist people to work better, not just chat more. And a solution doesn't have to be perfect first time (and probably shouldn't even strive to be) if you can embrace the belief that I share with Max that rigid flowcharts prevent collaboration and continuous improvement. If you can fix a problem process quickly, do so, as long as the new solution does not corner you from further improvement.

  • Its more like give a fish a bicycle. Some of the more narrow enterprise based social media platforms could be useful, like Chatter from SFDC or Yammer, but in the end making the successful is more about the culture of your environment than any specific technology.

  • For sure Social BPM will not be the panacea for all the problems currently faced by the BPM discipline.
    I fully agree with Max that flexibility is a separate achievement and an enabler for true exploitation of Social networking in BPM.
    Considering also some critical issues (e.g., resistance of traditionalist enterprises to such an unconventional approach), I don't see Social BPM as an easy win in the short term.
    But I also think it's worth a try.

    I've tried to summarize the discussions that happened on the Web here, it might be a useful overview of the various viewpoints:

  • Always make sure you define who the pig is :)
    Is the pig Social or BPM? or the combination of the two?

    I think BPM offerings will co-opt the interesting elements of social technologies to stay more relevant to evolving work patterns. It doesn't mean that the word "social" will stick in the long run however. No one says "e-business" anymore. It is just "business"...


  • The concern I have with all "fads", regardless of what they're called, is that they become a distraction from concentrating on the solution. Or worse, like technology, they're actually seen as a solution. These "things, concepts, fads" are support mechanisms for the process itself and should not detract from the goals of identifying and improving the process itself.

    I'm sure that a lot of latest technology will be helpful once a better process is in place. However, if organizations aren't careful, they will never have a better process, just "cool" technology supporting bad processes.

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