Social BPM

Summary : the time has come for businesses to stop confining social to what’s out the flow of work and not related to structuring mechanisms. On the contrary social approaches have the potential to significantly improve this side of the organization, in the pursuit of flexibility and ongoing improvement provided we get rid of some irrelevant fundamentalism. Moreover, is that is not the only way to make social improve things in the workplace, that’s the only one that will impact the core of operations in a measurable and undisputable way.

It’s been a long time since I wanted to write about something I find really important for the future : Social BPM. And is there a better way to introduce the topic than saying a few words about Social BPM that is more than a book but a collective work involving many experts, each shedding a new light on the matter, including Keith Swenson, Max Pucher or Clay Richardson.

As the name tells, the book is about applying social technologies and their paradigm to structures and structuring activities. That’s really a subject that catches my attention since we all have evidences that conversations are useless when not linked to a business goal. The level of the conversation does not matter if it does not impact operations.

So we are forced to admit that social technologies should not be confined to conversations, engagement and networking, apart from business processus but should merge with them. Sorry for the Ayatollahs of the idealist trend that have been predicting the death of documents, structures and processes for ages, to the profit of creative and spontaneous conversations (and did arm their own cause by so doing). Processes, documents and structures are not dead, they are even striking back…and are angree to have been the poor relation of the ongoing revolution, treated like plague-ridden while work would be kind of messy without them.

To be more precise, they strike back but in an humble fashion because they now they have to adapt to today’s world. Because they know that their rigidity makes them be more burdens than assets in a world of unpredictability, where the evolution of economics models ring the knell of  extreme standardization.

To end once for all the debate on the relevance of processes in social, if the matter still looks uncalled-for to you, know that we’re not talking about processes as they are but as they should and will be. The purpose is not to use many intelligence from few people to design a system that many people will run without thinking but, on the contrary, a system able to leverage the intelligence of those who run it to adapt it in a smart and agile way.

Moreover the word “Social BPM’ (for Social Business Process management) may not be the most appropriate. It’s more about adaptive models able to provide a structured framework while making it possible for employees to adapt it to every unique case. It’s also about learning models that learn anytime they’re being ran to better adapt to future similar cases. In the end that’s a lot about case management and, to be more specific, Adaptive Case Management than BPM. But let’s not focus too much on words : there’s so few consensus on the definition of social anything, the world of BPM itself being made of many schools of thought, there’s few chances a clear definition emerges at first try.

Anyway, this book clearly tells us what is about : the impact of social technologies on process discovery, design and execution with many thoughts and cases. Sometimes technical it can be read by anyone who understands that businesses are not only made of communities of interest and some structure and formalism should apply to certain things. I won’t sum up the whole book here but only show the impact of the social paradigm on processes so it will be clear that we’re not waking up old dinosaurs.

1°) Process discovery : it’s about identifying tacit processes as they’re actually executed with  a bottom-up approach. Not to control them but empower those who execute them.

2°) Process design : by involving those who execute the process

3°) Process execution : by making conversation a part of the process and not a side activity

Let me also mention the power of social feedback loops for continuous improvement and the importance of capitalizing on past occurences in an adaptive case management approach

This will make social networking and collaboration converge as well as the tools that support each one. As a matter of fact there’s a reason why we struggle at showing the benefits of social businesses initiatives : even if, empirically we know that a conversation happening somewhere, the sharing of a document or best practice have a positive impact on executing a given process, it’s impossible to demonstrate it or to measure it to improve the system for the sole reason that each activity (conversation and execution) happens in a specific tool while one of them only measures the effectiveness of a process. Without link it’s impossible to show that something happening here causes a benefit there.

This is a book I recommend to two kind of people : those who have read everything on enterprise 2.0 and social business seen from a networking and community management standpoint and want to see the other side of business, the one that makes a business live, and those that have always find this too childish and want to know more about the impact of social on what they find serious. LEAN followers will also find a couple of familiar thing in.

I’ll end with two quotes :

We are moving into an economy where the greatest value is in the recipes rather than the cakes. (Charles Leadbeater)

A bad process will beat a good person every time (Charles Deming)

One more reason to improve processes.

Social BPM (Bpm and Workflow Handbook Series)

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