Saturday, September 14, 2013

BPM’s Hybrid Journey: How to Manage Structured and Unstructured Processes Effectively

With emerging mobile/social, hyper-connected and always-on working environment, the mix of traditional highly structured work shifts to a mix of unstructured and structured work --industries where knowledge workers perform process steps. So from BPM perspectives, how to well manage such “hybrid” processes environment, to keep process flow with discipline. also not allow process mechanism kill innovation as well. 

What is a modern company? It is about people. To be more precise, it is people working together towards a common goal. These people cooperate to support the functioning of multiple business processes within a company. People move processes. People are creative, but with well-trained discipline; managing people well precedes managing process well.  

Business System always has certain structure: If you look at business in a different way and think in terms of systems rather than processes, systems must have some sort of structured way of working (processes) in order to survive. If you don't have structure effectively you have chaos. And chaos can only allow survival for a short time before things break down. Either within the system or between the systems, there are certain levels of structure exist, otherwise, the interactions between systems become chaotic and the system will start to break down.

Creative and knowledge workers demand broader flexibility to be creative and to problem solve. Initially it may seem like they demand unstructured processes. But in fact, they want more latitude and greater power to make decisions. To accommodate that, the process segments may have to be defined less in terms of steps and more in terms of deliverable objectives, deliverables, iterations and tollgates. Regardless of how the process is defined, and clarity in roles, ownership of deliverables and accountability are necessary at all times, and especially when the quality of the deliverables begin to suffer.

Social processes are unstructured by definition, though social interactions need structure. People move processes. Therefore all corporate processes are social, therefore to some extent; all corporate processes are unstructured and unpredictable. Definitely they have structured content. But they always have unstructured content as well - human tasks, discussions, assignments etc. These unstructured process entities can be handled in the information system or can be handled manually, but they are present in each enterprise process.

The convergence of unstructured text messages with structured process entities will help create user-friendly process management applications handling structured and unstructured processes in a similar manner. Social interactions usually contain messages in a plain text form. Therefore all social interactions containing plain text messages as significant process entities (not just comments, but activities, human tasks, events, assignments etc.) are unstructured. Adding social interactions in the business processes will make them unstructured and unpredictable. The social BPM should handle such hybrid processes effectively.

The content of communication needs to be structured too, otherwise things become too chaotic. So things like feedback loops are created whereby people check their understanding of each other. If the feedback loop is positive you know you're both on the right wavelength. If negative then adjustments can be made to re-tune the process. Therefore, the "unstructured processes" may spur opportunities for process innovation and optimization, going beyond the traditional process automation.

Either managing structured or less structured processes, the focal point is on the deliverable quality and process along the deliverable pipelines, improve business productivity, agility, and encourage innovation and optimization as well. 



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