Many people, especially those who deal with Adaptive Case Management (ACM), would not agree with the statement that any business process (as well as any process) is always structured. In my opinion, there is only one reason for this disagreement - understanding of what a process is.
From my discussions with several BPM professionals I've learnt that enthusiasts of process management believe that 'process is everything we do'. I suspect that this short formula hides one assumed element, which is the key to problems with ACM - this is the process logic or causes of our actions.
We are not simply doing, we understand something and we react to something by our actions. This logic differentiates an action from a process. But, wait a minute, do we know what/why we do things? Do we really know the logic of our actions?
Common knowledge tells us that we do not know what we do in many cases. We do not go crazy because of our own unstructured actions but and because we cannot even explain to ourselves the logic of these actions. If we agree with his, why are we obstinately trying to knot unstructured activities with a term 'process'? Expressions "unstructured process" and "unpredictable process" are oxymoron because we do not know what the logic of these processes is.
Nevertheless, we have locked ourselves in the "definition" of process - everything we do is a process - which seems inconsistent or simply incorrect. My understanding of the process is not 'anything we do' but only the things we can repeat by our 'doing'. If there is known logic, the actions may be repeated. If there is no known logic, there is no process and our actions may be unstructured.
Another reason to de-couple unstructured actions from process is in that we always expect particular outcome from given business process. If we do not know what activities are and how they collectively interact, we cannot expect particular outcome. This does not mean there is no outcome; this means it is unexpected and, probably, not repeatable. That is, next time when the same event triggers our activities, it is not necessary that we end up with the same result. I'd like to look at a business, which does not know what it would get in next moment. This contradicts to the entire idea of enterprise business model and business functionality/services.
Presented observation leads to simple conclusion - Adaptive Case Management and Business Process Management have only one common thing - business management. ACM is not about process management due to the absence of the process, it is rather about a management of consequences of unpredicted events, which itself is very important business task.
Chris Adams, VP of Product and Technology at Ultimus, believes that "the majority of processes in business have ALWAYS been unstructured". In Chris' classification, a workflow is the lowest hanging fruit, structured processes is the middle fruit, and unstructured processes is the highest fruit to attain. At the same time, Scott Francis argues that technically the unstructured processes are easier to implement than even a workflow.
Why we have such polar opinions? My answer is: because both use term 'process' inappropriately. Lotus Notes applications, email, or SharePoint are the examples of unstructured processes to Francis. For instance, what constitutes a process in e-mail? Well, if a process is everything we do, my question is silly. Doesn't this remind us a medieval alchemistic search for gold in everything? However, if we may assume that a process is about actions performed in logic, what are the actions and logic in e-mail?
Technically, e-mail is a means of transitioning of finite amount of information from point A to point B via mediating network according to concrete transport protocol. Sending amount of information from point A (if the network works fine) always results in the appearance of this information in point B. Between points, the information may be transmitted via different network passes but they are also finite and overall demonstrate quite structural behavior. If we add a human user into e-mail system, the number of human actions and related logic is very limited and may be enumerated relatively easy. This enumeration or possible combination of actions is very structured.
Finally, if we consider e-mail as an IT contribution/automation into the human process and argue that this very process is unstructured, does this constitute that e-mail is an unstructured process as well? No, it does not: we have no relationships but classis isolation of process - sub-process between e-mail and the mentioned human process. The last hope for unstructured process realisation with e-mail or any other interactive/collaboration tools is on the process of human dialogue. Indeed, we do not know whether the counterpart would respond to the sent e-mail but knowing the action and structuring the action are not the same things. In the case of a dialogue, interaction via e-mail is very structured: there may be only two possibilities - the e-mail will be responded or not (with some time-out variations). This gives the sending side enough information to structure its next logical step. If someone argue that our e-mail may trigger another e-mail to another recipient, I would say that this new e-mail belongs to another dialogue and out of the scope of our initial process; our process is fully structured.
If you give a pair of glasses to a monkey, you, probably, can observe unstructured actions. So, unstructured actions take place only when we do not know what to do in particular situation. This is why ADM has nothing to do with a process though they seem similar from an external observer. To deal with unknown, we need a mechanism for two things:
1) very flexible instrument that can easily adopt our actions for the case (and a process is the least flexible instrument because of its fixed internal logic);
2) an instrument that can quickly valuate the results of execution of particular actions.
The former is most likely a service because it abstracts process into function and results that are very easy to manipulate with while the latter is a rules engine or another engine that can apply our knowledge to particular fact - outcome of the action executions - and construct a meaningful recommendation for the further actions. The process can start at his point but not earlier, and apply its logic, i.e. structure of actions.