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What is the secret to successful social BPM?

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Jim Sinur of Gartner has been a strong proponent of social BPM, as in this blog, Social BPM Requires Balance and Flexibility, while in May I asked the Forum, Is social BPM akin to putting lipstick on a pig.  So what do you think is the secret to successful social BPM?

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  • There is a useful overview of approaches to social BPM in this sample chapter from the 2011 Workflow Management Coalition Handbook on Social BPM, which states:

    "As organizations seek to replace email with a process-oriented approach to collaboration, it is necessary both to establish the right balance between flexibility and structure, and to retain the key advantage of email – its decentralized nature."

    Here's the link: http://bit.ly/wfmc-social-bpm

  • Sorry, but I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around what "social BPM" actually is ...

    From the readings, I glean that it sort of is "regular" BPM injected with a heavy does of collaboration. If so, then I really don't get what the "new" is here. I mean, maybe I'm an outlier, but I've _always_ approached BPM this way since processes nearly always reflect the people that work them, and managing those processes thus means managing the ways people work together. What am I missing?

    • Hi Steve,

      The answer is yes and no.
      Yes it's being sold as a more collaborative way of process management, yes it's what we do anyway but the tools are more aligned to allow people to actively collaborate rather than passively be involved.

      However, and a very big one at that: social BPM is not just about the tool, it's about how to approach the enterprise from top to bottom using the same way we look at social media and networking to create an organisation far more flexible and communicative than it is right now, removing rigid hierarchies for a start.

      My blog has several articles on this since early last year so it's not new where I'm coming from, for example

      - using it to reorganise teams and processes
      - using it to identify where the real information lies and SMEs in an organisation outside HR defined roles
      - lateral communication
      - repeatability vs. creativity in an organisation

      If only people stopped thinking about BPM with Twitter and thought a little broader then we might see a little more progress in this areas.

      Perhaps we're constrained in thinking bigger because of the 'social' tag itself and its connotations......

    • Hi,
      I agree with you that there is no clear definition of the field yet. I tried to clarify the landscape of social BPM by providing a set of adoption levels and objectives here:

      http://www.modeldrivenstar.org/2011/05/continuum-of-social-bpm.html

  • After reading Jim's blog it just points to the same fundamental flaw that has plagued the adoption of 'Social' BPM....that it's purely a technology driven concept hastily bolted on following the successes of Facebook, Twitter et al

    Shame that the biggest component that will drive 'social' BPM is never really pushed as an agenda for it: the people and their natural capability to net-work

    Jim talks big about flexibility then bursts into song about business rules, BI, policy... Sorry Jim but you're way off the mark.

    When you wake up to the fact that Social BPM is really about enabling and creating a flexible and socially networked enterprise from top to bottom where people and process really do come together then come and wake me from my current apathetic state....

    The technology is the enabler, not the be all.

  • In two words...BIG DATA.

    Guys like O'Reilly really get this point. Social is highly misunderstood. Social is really about the phenomenon of BIG Data. I've written more about it here - http://bit.ly/ou3Jnh

  • In my experience there is nothing better than a success that people will talk about. So the best kept secret is to start in an area of the company where the team is excited by the improvement challenge and they have the necessary support to drive the activities. Once the first success is achieved and improvements are being realized, the team members will tell everyone around the company and other teams within the organization will start forming around new and bigger improvement opportunities. The best way to start and get a program going is not always with the biggest opportunity.

  • I don't really see social BPM as a separate or opposing entity (to 'standard' BPM), more like an attempt to create a compromise between the rigorous control-flow where employees are assigned to tasks and the free-flow communication surrounding those processes - often essential, never defined.

    In that sense the secret to BPM is to allow (and perhaps to build on) as much unstructured communication as possible.

    Thomas

  • In my opinion "Social BPM" is all about collaboration. Whether you are collaborating to create process models or collaborating to complete work, you require some way of freely interacting with others. As a result, applications must be flexible to enable and balance social interactions.

    In the past, BPM-based applications were designed to automate highly structured processes. Structure is inherent because all the activities and associated rules are known, defined, and locked-down. Implicitly there was no need to collaborate.

    Fast forward 5-10 years. Now we better understand that all processes should have built-in flexibility as ad-hoc collaboration might help get work done more effectively and efficiently. Furthermore, there are processes that are truly dynamic. You might know the beginning and end of the process, but routing/review/approvals are dictated by what is involved and who is the best to answer. These are knowledge-driven tasks or projects. Email, the go-to tool for dynamic process execution, might be insufficient because it lacks what BPM best offers - control and visibility.

    I'm seeing Social BPM play a vital role in the area of ad-hoc collaboration, case management, and dynamic tasking. Users can pop out of structured processes to get information/approvals. Users can initiate projects dynamically without any prior modeling to get work done.

    BPM products and methodologies should pull Social BPM requirements into their respective suites and techniques.

    • Garth,
      leaving fully-automated processes aside, even the so-called well-structured, predictable processes more often than not require collaboration that is outside of the documented workflow. I think we all know of the importance of regular team meetings, jour fixes etc. even when everyone has their (predictable) tasks to deal with.

      When you look at tools like the Metasonic suite, which puts the emphasis on providing support to the people instead of 'just' enabling a control-flow, it goes some way towards integrating social with 'non-social' :-)

      But at the end of the day it comes down to company culture. Is the 'social' part of BPM regarded and encouraged to the same extent as the 'non-social' part?

      Which is where I fear the integration into BPM systems will fail, or does anyone see decision makers investing in BPM systems because they allow communication?

      I don't think the vendors themselves are prepared to position themselves in that area - they are having enough problems trying to sell systems to support processes of which they know nothing about for companies whose collaboration and communication styles they can not possibly grasp.

      Having said that, I'm sure we will see the social tag added to many systems (regardless of content, functionality and capability) and maybe - dare I say it? - it'll be called something clever like the 7th wave or BPM S.0.

    • Garth,
      I'm with you on all your arguments.
      But the most crucial one I think is on the need for requirement specification support. BPM Tools should support this phase and starting from there suggest which social tools would be useful or not, and at which stage of the BPM lifecycle they should be applied. See a more detailed discussion in the post I prepared on this today:
      http://www.modeldrivenstar.org/2011/07/social-bpm-motivation-and-impact-on-bpm.html

  • This might be obvious, but I think it's a crucial point for allowing success: first of all, you need to understand:
    1) if you really need socialization within your business processes
    2) which is the goal of the socialization.

    Garth, I agree with you that's all about collaboration, but still I think that understanding at which level you need to apply collaboration is important, so that you will apply the social behaviours at the correct level, among the right people/roles, and adopting the right technologies.

    We tried to clarify the possible objectives for social BPM by classifying the adoption levels in a continuum from purely social systems to rigidly defined bpm.

    You can find an overview here:

    http://www.modeldrivenstar.org/2011/05/continuum-of-social-bpm.html

    (this is described more in details in our chapter in the Social BPM handbook by WfMC:
    http://www.modeldrivenstar.org/2011/05/model-driven-approach-to-social-bpm.html )

    We are also starting a new research project on this. You may want to check it out:

    http://www.bpm4people.org/

  • There are two secrets to successfully deploying social BPM, and not everyone is ready to exploit both. The first requires that business process be deployed to everyone in the enterprise so that 'social' truly involves everyone. As many BPM suites are not deployed in a meaningful way (role-based, governed, in the language of the business--not BPMN), this is quite a barrier. Otherwise, you'll have social for all and BPM for some, which makes little sense.

    The second secret is to have social streams associated with topics that allow people to find, follow and contribute to the conversation. Simply bolting on 'Twitter for the enterprise' will create more noise and confusion and slow or thwart adoption.

  • I'm in dissonance here, not basically the fact around tools to share the information, that unfortunately system vendors are propelling about and all that bias around knowledge management, that is in my very personal opinion the less important thing, but because to become Social it's necessary, on the backbone, to understand HOW enterprise artifacts connect or socialize, like:

    Dependencies and magnitude of dependence of the people that perform work, no matter here they are and if they belong the company or not ie the effects of human socialization itself;

    If the work is executed by people that have the knowledge to do it;

    Have a clear idea if there is infrastructure that supports communication, if the human transactions are balanced or if there is overhead.

    What are the patterns of knowledge sharing within the organization.

    How data is connected? How data meaning can be enhanced using ontology management?


  • Technologically speaking, a “better” (not just social) BPM (as technology) needs all existing activity-coordination techniques (i.e. template-based, event-based, data-based, rule-based, role-based, intelligence-based, community-based, etc.) and a simple way to switch from one technique to another (similar to changing gear as a function of the driving conditions).

    Is it achievable soon by one vendor? Not sure. By many BPM vendors which work together? Probably, but we need “just” agree on a reference model, develop a few reference architectures, and make the BPM market customer-driven.

    Thanks,
    AS

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