Personal process management: the overlooked side of BPM

Being quite involved both in the BPM field and in social networking, personal productivity tools, and Web application design, I’m always appalled when I think about how many findings and practices designed for businesses could benefit our everyday life too.
One specific example of this is about the BPM practices and their potential added value for end users.
With the advent of Web 2.0 and online social interactions, people started sharing thoughts, contents and tasks online. This evolved to cover also socialization of task management, which is currently supported by a plethora of online services directed to the final user (for instance, see: RememberTheMilk or Astrid).
First, I tried to build a list of features they cover, and that’s what I obtained:

As you see, they all provide plenty of features, with some diversification among each other. However, all these tools share a common weakness: they don’t provide any way for structuring the interactions, dependencies or constraints between tasks.

Based on this consideration, I thought about a vision towards the application of BPM techniques and tools to personal task management. The challenge of this is finding the appropriate level of complexity of processes: obviously one cannot expose the full complexity of BP modeling languages to end users. The language for modeling such processes should be complete enough for describing basic processes but also simple enough to let people understand, accept and use them in their everyday life. Therefore, I’m proposing to strip off some of the expressive power of enterprise business processes, so as to accommodate end user needs and acceptance.

I presented a paper at the BPMS2 workshop on Business Process Management and Social Software at the BPM conference on this. The slides are available on slideshare and reported below.
If you are interested, you can read the full paper here (scroll to the bottom of the page and download the PDF).

To my understanding neither the commercial tool nor the academic community (except for some work done by Michael Rosemann, reflected only in a one-year-old short post) is addressing the issue.
Feel free to comment and propose extensions or changes! This is just a first attempt in the direction of personal process management (but already supported by a prototype implementation, see the video attached to the slides or available on youTube!).

A demonstration video of our tool is on YouTube:

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Making Social BPM mean Business – Sandy Kemsley’s seminar at BPM Europe 2012 by IRM-UK

While attending the BPM Europe Conference 2012, I started by following the seminar by Sandy Kemsley on Social Business Process Management.
She brought up a large set of interesting issues related to Social BPM:

Social BPM dimensions

Dimensions of complexity can be orthogonalized and well managed:
  1. Structure: how much structured is the process
  2. Internal Collaboration: how much internal collaboration the process allows
  3. External Involvement: how many external actors can be involved
This is extremely interesting, as it unfolds the concepts that I was investigating in some of my past posts on social BPM options and adoption levels. But here the orthogonalization makes the problem much more crisp and clear.

Collaboration Spectrum

The span of collaboration can cover different levels:
  • Predefined participants
  • Selection of participants from a predefined set of enabled ones
  • Selection of any participants or participants self-selection

This is also close to the continuum of social BPM, but again focusing on one specific orthogonalized aspect at a time.

Social as a feature or as an application?

The point with Enterprise 2.0 is that several social tools exist now, and the challenge is how to put them together in a productive and coherent way, without irking to build yet another stack of silos, in the socialization domain. There is a huge social enterprise software confusion, and social BPM is part of it.
Socialization, as well as any other enterprise issue, should be tackled as a comprehensive problem at enterprise level. The main challenge is not to reduce this to simply selecting a set of social tools to be used. Social must become an attitude and a lifestyle in the enterprise.
You can get Social process discovery and modeling, and this is covered by several vendors. However, it’s much more interesting to have social process execution. This is covered by vendors such as HandySoft and Fujitsu. Major vendors like IBM are also expanding their features towards Adaptive Case Management (ACM), by covering as much as possible of this within their BPM products.

Process event streams

This is very similar to the Facebook timeline or other customer-oriented event streams. This is also a major user interface change in the enterprise. Events may have a direct link to underlying process models or instance. One can subscribe to a stream by topic or by author or other. Enterprise systems get usable, mobile and quickly accessible.
Producers of these class of products include: Appian Tempo, Tibco Tibbr, IBM Blueworks Live.

Other aspects

Several other ways exist for making BPM social, such as online communities (internal centers of excellence, external communities of practice, marketplaces): this is covered by IBM BlueWorks, Appian, and Software AG Aris. In small, this is also what the WebRatio Store is aiming at in the near future (while now it’s mainly focused on WebML features).

Some producers are offering BPM Software as a service solutions, with cloud deployment(Appian Anywhere, Fujitsu InterstageBPM, Cordys Process Factory and other emerging ones). WebRatio is also moving towards the cloud, but at the moment the development part is based on the Eclipse-based  standalone tool suite.

Organization and Impacts

While the technology is not cutting edge any more, organizational impacts and benefits are still challenging for the enterprise.
Social Business has now an ad-hoc social business maturity model. 
The social BPM maturity gap. Internal: above, orange line. External: below, yellow line.
You have two dimensions:
  1. internal versus external social business (Y axis)
  2. business maturity level (X axis)
    1. Ad-hoc
    2. Engaged
    3. Structured
    4. Managed
    5. Optimized
    6. Unified 
The current status of most companies is currently in the state “engaged-structured” internally and “structured-managed”externally.
The main challenges are on culture and collaborativeness. Enterprises need to trigger a participatory culture, considering people’s contribution independently of their role, increasing transparency and openness, allowing and empowering employees to deviate from predefined processes.
A nice bottom line for the discussion is that Social BPM means to monitor events and not outcomes of BPM

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Mobile and consumerization — keys for event-based Social BPM?

I really appreciated the provocative post by Chris Taylor on the potential of Social BPM to replace emails in business processes. While I see the final statement there a little bit too optimistic, total replacement is definitely in my dreams and I agree on the general trend.

Actually, I see we are already in  a hybrid situation where email or text messaging is still needed for notifying people (especially end users) but with respect to the past they tend to be just reminders or references to the actual info, which is stored on a (web) system. The reason for this is sometimes different than BPM practices.
For instance, you may think about your online bank statement: you get a notification email what it’s available, but then you access it through the bank site. To have them on the web and not within an email is more a matter of security and compliance than of BPM implementation, but what’s interesting is that these small steps are slowly shaping the attitude and the minds towards expecting all behaviour and content to be on a system.

Example of bank statement notification.

What I think it’s still not yet here is the event management part. This still uses traditional means. For this, I foresee two crucial enablers for future adoption:
mobile apps (which can be a part of a “extended” BPMS): getting notifications and dashboards would be very convenient and acceptable by the users
–  “consumerization” of the business interfaces: if people perceive a (business) UI as user-friendly and convenient, he won’t object to using it instead of the email
But this has still to come..

However, I’m not really concerned about the notification phase toward the user, since this is anyway something coming from the enterprise systems. The critical point is to capture the behaviour of the user and the action he performs in response to the trigger. This is what would bring the maximum value to the enterprise in understanding the actual “hidden” procedures that go on within the company or at its borders.
This is the part where email falls short, because email activities cannot be traced in the general case. However, for this I see an even longer way to adoption. 

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The social enterprise options

A huge discussion is ongoing on how to implement the social enterprise paradigm and on why it doesn’t seem to deliver as expected.
Obviously, social enterprise is a broad term that comprises a large number of very diverse problems addressed and solutions that can be adopted, within a variety of business scenarios (including social CRM, social BPM and many more).
I think there is a common problem that needs to be solved for each of them: how much to empower the users / workers with respect to keeping in control of the business.
I see a continuous set of possibilities here, but I tried to summarize them in a discrete set of 5 options, as reported in the figure below.
Let’s assume a simplified model with two user stereotypes:

  • internal user: representing a human resource formally enrolled in the enterprise activities and in charge of some tasks or responsibility. For instance, in case of BPM, this would be one of the users assigned a role in the BP and in charge of performing one or more process activities.
  • external user: representing any actor (from within the company, from partners or third party enterprises, or even from the end user base) that is not formally in charge of any task, but that do contribute somehow to the business through his/her social interactions, feedback and so on.
The continuum of the social enterprise options when deciding how to exploit the social assets.

The possible solutions that can be implemented are:

  1. No social enterprise: the company performs its business in a traditional and completely structured way, without exploiting weak ties, informal interactions, user feedbacks. Everything is performed through the some enterprise software platform.
  2. Empowered enterprise: the company applies some user/worker empowerment by allowing external users to contribute through a social networks. In this case, the actual business is run through the enterprise software platform; the users on the social network have limited interaction options, while the ones on the enterprise platform are enabled to perform the entirety of the needed tasks.The internal user still plays a predominant role here and decides if and when to exploit the actions and events coming from the social platform.
  3. Enterprise democracy: the company adopts a completely transparent policy and lets the external users perform the same actions that internal users can do.
  4. Enterprise view: the company role in this case is to get a view on any kind of complex interactions or behaviour on a social network. In this case the role of the internal user is quite diminished, because he is basically just collecting feedbacks or statistics on the action, while the actual activity is performed on the social network.
  5. Only social: this is the most unstructured scenario, where everything is run on the social basis and there is no actual structured activity ongoing on it.

These 5 scenarios are all good in principle, but if you move to the real business some of them are more important than others.
Let’s keep out the two extremes: we are not interested in the non-social case here, and on the other side the completely social one doesn’t make much sense in a business setting (actually, even in the pure social network platforms there are some analyses and tasks run by internals, which position the case in the scenario number 4).

Empowered enterprise is probably the most sensible scenario, and I can imagine a lot of situations where this can apply (most of the Social BPM cases for instance).
Enterprise democracy, although positioned in the middle, is quite extreme in considering the role of social contributions. At the moment I can’t see any real scenario where to apply this. If you have some, feel free to share it.
Enterprise view instead is typical of several situations where the social behaviour needs to be observed for understanding the positioning of the enterprise (think about social CRM, social Marketing, opinion trend analysis and so on).

Please let me know if you are aware of any other sensible scenario you recognized, and please share also real / realistic cases you experienced.

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My take on today’s Social BPM tweet jam

Today I participated, together with an impressive number of world-renowned experts in BPM, to a hectic tweet jam on Social BPM.
I curated a (slightly remixed) recording of the session, which is available here (http://storify.com/marcobrambi/socialbpm) and embedded below.
The participation was so intense that it was really hard to keep the pace of the discussion (especially because I was having a conf call in parallel), so the recording has been definitely useful.
To get an idea, here are the final statistics on the discussion: 521 tweets generated 375,886 impressions, reaching an audience of 24,348 followers.

When I went through the contribution, I found a lot of hidden pearls that I missed.
Overall, my impression is the following: despite some criticism on the term “Social BPM”, I would say there is wide consensus on the need of integrating rigid BPM approaches with others that consider user interactions as crucial value for the enterprise. To my surprise, several experts (including Nathaniel Palmer and Clay Richardson) agree that there is a substantial request for these technologies by customers, especially in “non-traditional” scenarios. On the other side, the state of the art of the tools and systems is still perceived as weak or only partially addressing the actual needs.
This is definitely encouraging because it leaves a lot of space for research, improvement, and exciting evolutions in the field.

http://storify.com/marcobrambi/socialbpm.js<a href=”http://storify.com/marcobrambi/socialbpm” target=”_blank”>View “Social BPM discussion and tweetjam” on Storify</a>

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