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Are inflexible/structured processes on the way out?

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As Jim Sinur writes in this blog, the days are numbered for rigid processes.  What do you think?

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  • Not a chance. Think Henry Ford.

  • I believe that there will always be a place for what can be described as 'inflexible' and highly structured processes. The key is deploying an approach and a solution that accommodates both structured and unstructured processes and everything in between [hybrid]. But I would say that wouldn't I?

  • Flexible process support is required in many application domains, particularly regarding knowledge-intensive processes (e.g., in healthare and engineering). Of course, there exists a broad spectrum of business processes in practice, and process-aware information systems must adequately cover all of them - highly structured ones as well as flexible processes. Note that even for highly structured processes exceptions may happen that necessitate deviations from the pre-specified process. Any process-aware information system will not be accepted by end-users if its use in such exceptional situations is more cumbersome and time-consuming than just handling the exception by a phone call.

    A recent book on this topic, which I co-authored with a colleague from Austria, is entitled "Enabling Process Flexibility in Process-Aware Information Systems - Challenges, Methods, Technologies" (see www.process-flexibility.com for details). The book is intended for all being interested in flexible process support within information systems. It shows that business process management is not just about making diagrams. The real challenge is to realize information systems that support processes without jeopardizing flexibility. In the book we present a wide range of powerful techniques to support this.

  • I think BPM Systems that can only do inflexible, structured processes are definitely on the way out. Their asteroid has fallen :)

  • People and their processes are assets in a business but only as long as they remain flexible. Even structured processes will have a limited life and will need to change. Businesses making an investment in digitising their processes want a future proof investment allowing more than simple configuration. So those not offering such flexibility (at reasonable cost) will disappear - or maybe be bought by a big player who are always a few steps behind!

  • Good question. Jim Sinur is just reinforcing the idea that "adaptive" system are on the increase. (In many ways he is just talking about the kinds of flexibility that Interstage BPM has had for years.) Still, across the market the rate of adoption of Adaptive Case Management (no matter what you call it) is dramatically on the rise and it is important for those in the IT media to continue to remind people of such trends.

    Please take care when discussing this because "flexibility" and "adaptability" are not exactly the same thing. Jim uses the term "adaptability" correctly.

    I must say I am very encouraged and impressed at how companies are actually (finally) figuring out how to use adaptable system. I am currently reading the submissions to the 2013 ACM Excellence awards. The cases are compelling, and solving real world problems that are incredibly hard with fixed processes. These are REAL adaptive processes that emerge from doing the work. Jim has made an important point.


    While fixed processes are not going to disappear, a whole new world of adaptive processes is indeed opening up and doing thing we only dreamed possible 10 years ago.

  • Jim's analogy is a good one, but perhaps not for the reasons he intended. The mat isn't the gymnast's only constraint: she must follow a series of very specific, highly choreographed steps, in the proper order and with great precision. There is room for creativity, yes; but the boundaries of that creativity are very strict indeed.

    The same can be said for BPM. Here in the age of regulatory compliance, our ability to deploy laissez-faire workflows is severely restricted. Our processes, while loose enough to accommodate a wide variety of customer and business interactions, must reside within the structure demanded of us by auditors and regulators.

    While each individual process will therefore live in a world of constrained flexbility, BPM solutions overall must provide a sufficiently rich set of features and options to support a huge array of such processes. It is this wide variety of use cases that represents the open frontier for BPM vendors.

  • An excerpt from my blog: http://wp.me/pd9ls-12Z

    The answer is yes, because also adaptive process can create a rigid process where necessary. A major issue is the misunderstading of the term adaptability. Yes, it is a synonym for flexible and dynamic but that is not the intent and it has been explained a thousand times.

    Adaptability is used in ACM for its biological evolutionary meaning of describing a systems ability to change permanently from within to better fit its environment. This functionality is not within the process execution, but they refer to the lifecycle aspect of process management. What happen before and after the process is executed.

    Ad-hoc, social, dynamic, process fragments, event driven changes, and rules are all runtime modifications that do not by default translate to a better process next time. And better does not mean cheaper but achieving more if its well defined goals and outcomes.

    Turning past executions into new processes and having the system learn to make recommendations on what actions improve process outcomes --- THAT IS ADAPTIVE. in BPM all that happens in the process governance bureaucracy.

    Adaptive processes are therefore not about being chaotic, creative or non-compliant but about using the dynamics of that to create a process that fulfills all goals, follows all compliance rules and can change at the drop of a hat to be better NEXT TIME.

    From my experience the claim that processes have to be rigid because of compiance and regualtions is simply an excuse. There are usually just a few checkpoints where the users work has to be constrained or the customers outcome be reduced. That can easily be done by a few rules.

    If you put processes, collaboration, content, rules and social into seperate engines and hope to make the work together sensibly and allow an ADAPTIVE evolution of your processes ... you must clearly be dreaming or not understand technology at all.

  • Max, maybe you explained it understandable for the first time ;-)

    Indeed, if you could make your processes so adaptive that every instance is a new process, then the answer to this question is yes.

    Actually, aren't we talking about good old continuous process improvement then? And indeed that is quite hard when your supporting systems don't allow this flexibility and 'force' you into structure.

    And of course the first question you should ask is 'the amount of adaptability a process needs. If you know you have to create the same results for 20 years; who cares.

    But some say we live in a fast changing world and that will never be the case, so probably processes need to be adaptive to that outside world.

    And processes that rely on inflexible supporting tools might have a hard time in that.

    Or should we all just start using excel?

  • Using Jim’s example of the floor gymnast, the routine is the same, not only does she pursue excellence within the constraints of the floor, she has to maintain the routine of the floor exercise that has been dictated by the gymnastics industry. There are some inflexible processes that can and will support and take advantage of adhoc, social, CM and collaboration, one that comes to mind is meetings…the dinosaur of all businesses an essential process with elements that are rigid. With Cloud and mobile meetings fit right into adhoc, CM, social and collaboration. Ridged/inflexible processes have a place in the enterprise, it’s how you look at them as part of the aggregate.

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