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IT Directions

Keith Harrison-Broninski

Dynamic, complex processes are projects

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During 2010 I helped design and implement dynamic, complex processes using HIM in organizations of various types, and of sizes ranging from tens to tens of thousands of staff, and if there is one major insight that emerged from this experience, it is this: that dynamic, complex processes are best thought of not as Processes or Cases.  Rather, it helps greatly to think of them as Projects.

For most people, and certainly most software vendors:

- Processes are considered to be a sequence of steps governed by branch points and conditional loops, in which the 20% of "exceptions" that generate 80% of the costs are handled by abandoning structure altogether and trusting to people to sort it out somehow.

- Cases are unstructured work, carried out ad-hoc according to the judgement of the skilled knowledge workers involved, optionally with business rules to check compliance.

Neither of these options provides enough to meet full organizational needs.  BPMS tools provide too much structure and Case Management tools ("Adaptive" or otherwise) not enough to identify and improve the patterns common to each form of knowledge work.

To remedy the situation, try thinking of dynamic, complex processes as projects.  Projects suggest plans, which for structure can be based on templates, and which for flexibility can have deliverables defined, adjusted, produced and approved during execution.

For this reason, one of the first customer engagements we carried out with HumanEdj (the reference implementation of a Human Interaction Management System, or HIMS) resulted in reworking the Web user interface to refer to "templates" and "Plans", rather than "process designs" and "process instances".  Since then the user interface has responded to user needs by moving further and further towards a project management style, based on expected due dates, possible slippages, resource allocation, and so on.  There has been no request from users to see a diagram of a Plan or template - to the contrary, they have been happy with a combination of To Do lists for managing their own time plus various overviews of Stages, Roles, Activities and deliverables to provide context (the latest addition is a GANTT chart view).

In previous posts, I showed how a common real-world dynamic, complex process can be handled in this style, and contrasted the treatment in a HIMS with an attempt to handle the same process in a leading "social BPM" application.  I focused on the high-level advantages that accrue from the 5 principles of HIM (effective teams, structured communication, building knowledge, effective use of time, and dynamic re-planning), but there are immediate usability advantages that to the knowledge worker will be no less important.

Would you like to have resources automatically allocated and summarized as part of process definition?   Full control over delivery date forecasting by adjusting which Activities use which data and documents?  To have a fully hyperlinked GANTT chart available for each process you are working in, always up-to-date and with clear depiction of dependencies?

Then you need a HIMS.  As the Chair of the Workflow Management Coalition writes this month:

"A lot more is needed than simply adding social capabilities to a system that distributes and monitors tasks ... Like most disruptive technologies, social networking will favor newcomers with a fresh approach, over the entrenched leaders adopting an incremental approach."

[HumanEdj is available free]

Keith Harrison-Broninski cuts through the hype in his hands-on guide to where enterprise IT is really going

Keith Harrison-Broninski

Keith Harrison-Broninski is a researcher, writer, keynote speaker, software architect and consultant working at the forefront of the IT and business worlds.

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