Social BPM –
Work, Planning and Collaboration Under the Impact of Social Technology

5th of April 2018

This book, dealing with Social BPM as the title indicates, was published back in 2011 and, as with most of Future Strategies Inc. publications, had some of the BPM luminaries of our time working on it. On call for this work were amongst others Sandy Kemsley, Keith Swenson, Nathaniel Palmer and more. As for the content, Social BPM can refer to many things. On the one hand, it uses Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 style collaboration portals and tools where participants can share and influence process design (Social Process Discovery) and certain decision-making activities during process execution (Social Process Guidance). These tools can also be used to guide and support the development effort to automate and/or optimize processes (Shared Development). On the other hand, we also speak of Social BPM when we look to integrate the organization’s outward social media resources into internal business processes, and leverage the insights gained through these channels (Social Modeling). Ideally, an organization seeks to integrate social business functionality into their operational and business applications through an integration platform (BPMS, SOA landscape, ESB…).

Speaking of Social Process Guidance, Gartner took a swing at retitling this concept as Design-By-Doing BPM, as placed it thus named on its Hype Cycle, as seen in the illustration below. While supported by advanced BPM technology and social software in order to make process design more visible and holistic (thus guaranteeing the “emergent” design), it also requires a user experience perspective and their willingness to step into such an endeavor so that social networks of employees can be cultivated and mobilized around the idea of bottom-up process improvement efforts.

BPM Hype Cycle July 2014 (Gartner)
BPM Hype Cycle July 2014 (Gartner)

Social BPM is derived from a series of conversations and negotiations between individuals instead of the typical command-and-control paradigm of process automation. As such it relies heavily on the two currencies of any social endeavor: trust and reputation. Together with mutual understanding and shared values, they form the basis for the social capital of any corporate culture. Turning an organization into what Francois Gosseaux and Ed Moran call a Hyper-Social Organization, requires fundamental changes in how an organization would operate. They propose the following fundamental shifts in order to achieve this:

  • Forget about market segments. Think more in terms of tribes (people that identify themselves by each other) and human populaces. These tribes heavily influence purchasing patterns.
  • Forget about company centricity and focus on human centricity. Take a more personal approach to engaging with customers individually.
  • Forget about information channels, and focus on knowledge networks.
  • Forget processes, hierarchies and embrace social messiness.

The tooling should act as a foundation for process participant knowledge, and reinforce this knowledge by keeping it up to date. Going by the whitepaper from Steve Russel (Global 360 Inc), any tooling that wishes to support social BPM needs to offer a certain number of capabilities, and adhere to several rules:

  • Capture, Rank, and Share everything.
  • Promote collaboration between participants.
  • Create social feedback loops.
  • Use social conventions for non-social applications (such as followers, achievements…).
  • Make the participant the center of the universe instead of the process.

These capabilities are in turn translated into a number of technical and operational concepts:

  • Collaborative Process Discovery: By involving all stakeholders through collaboration tools in order to discover new processes or new versions of existing processes. These stakeholders can range from a few persons up to an entire social community.
  • Centralized Process Model Repository: Containing the processes and institutional memory of the collaborative process design.
  • BPM Reference and Training Material: A combination of internal best practices and external reference material. Together with the Centralized Process Model Repository, It should support and stimulate training to improve the quality of knowledge within the organization.
  • Runtime Collaboration: During execution of processes, these can be modified dynamically in order to accelerate, improve, and stimulate finalization. This approach is almost the polar opposite of top-down command and control management styles.
  • Process Event Streams: Exposing social events to other processes in the organization.
  • Internal and External BPM Communities: Social groups or “Centres of Excellence” (CoE) to further and share best practices.

According to Keith Swenson, the adoption of this mindset to allow for emergent design through social technology (see the definition below) will transform the organization from a Newtonian Organization to a Quantum Organization. The Newtonian view taken by organizations is that processes are externally observable, that the rules in place are simple and their number is fixed, that processes have an inherent predictability, and that there is a “smoothness” to them, meaning approximation of the outcome with a rough input is possible. The quantum view is opposed to these points: Processes can only theoretically be known to a certain extent, they are inherently unpredictable, there is a steady accumulation of interactions throughout the process that disturb its “smoothness”, and the relationships between participants are the fundamental unit, leading to complex rules and interactions. Mapping these two concepts to known terms would result in the Newtonian view aligned with BPM, focusing on optimizing resources by finding out the best process, and forcing all participants to follow this sequence, and the quantum view with Adaptive Case Management (ACM).

Social Technology is the software that supports the interaction of human beings and production of artifacts by combining the input from independent contributors without predetermining the way to do this.
- Rainer Schmidt and Selmin Nurcan

These interacting human beings are usually called knowledge workers. The term “knowledge worker potential” was thrown around a lot by Peter Drucker the last twenty years of the 20th century, hinting at the quantum view of ACM, and he specified 6 major factors for their productivity in his book “Management Challenges for the 21st Century”:

  1. Knowledge worker productivity demands that we ask the question: “What is the task?”
  2. It demands that we impose the responsibility for their productivity on the individual knowledge workers themselves. Knowledge workers have to manage themselves. They have to have autonomy.
  3. Continuing innovation has to be part of the work, the task and the responsibility of the knowledge workers.
  4. Knowledge work requires continuous learning on the part of the knowledge worker, but equally continuous teaching on the part of the knowledge worker.
  5. Productivity of the knowledge worker is not — at least not primarily — a matter of the quantity of output. Quality is at least as important.
  6. Finally, knowledge-worker productivity requires that the knowledge worker is both seen and treated as an “asset” rather than a “cost.” It requires that knowledge workers want to work for the organization in preference to all other opportunities.

The unpredictable, chaotic nature of knowledge-driven processes necessitates handling them with ACM instead going about it in a traditional BPM fashion. This can be addressed by making these processes/case goal-oriented allowing for them to be user-defined and user-coordinated (in other words empowerment of the knowledge worker). Technology must therefore not be used to restrict participant actions and interactions, but should offer tools to support and stimulate this behavior. These tools should allow for the process discovery to take into account the social dimensions of the processes: Types of actors (internal, external, observers, performers), the visibility of the process status, and the levels of social participation (inform, comment, generate signals, produce data). Peter Drucker stressed upon the co-evolving of management and technology in this regard. A well-developed Business Architecture will allow for these goals to be determined and set for the relevant knowledge work.

A Business Architecture is needed to reduce the governance of this such a knowledge-driven organization. It shouldn’t do this by enforcing structure to reduce complexity, but rather by providing a framework in which to successfully operate a business. To paraphrase the Object Management Group (OMG), it needs to provide a blueprint for the organization that represents the common understanding of its structure and it is used to align strategic objectives with tactical demands in order to differentiate itself from its competitors. Aside from this, it needs to define process teams, role/policy authority, security policies, and delegation/substitution principles. The core elements of this type of architecture are a Business Strategy, Organizational Structure, Business Capabilities, Business Processes, and Business Entities.

Some barriers to the collaborative process discovery do stand out, and should be overcome in order to make the Social BPM approach successful. Most of these have to do with corporate culture, and are therefore very similar to pitfalls the organization encounters in their Knowledge Management approach: Information Hoarding can be seen as a source of power, especially if bonuses for efficient work are granted to employees. Some knowledge workers might not actively participate in order not to appear ignorant about the topic at hand. And processes of certain departments can be deemed so distinctive to their work that the knowledge workers don’t see the point of sharing them. Next to these corporate culture pitfalls, there are evidently also technological barriers that could stand in the way of the collaboration.

The white paper by Keith Harrison-Broninski takes a different perspective to human collaboration by describing Human Interaction Management (HIM). Using extensive change management, this approach reimagines workflows and cases as simple, high-level work processes based on business-oriented principles (effective teams, structured communication, knowledge creation, empowered time management, and collaborative, real-time planning). The lynchpin for this approach is collaborative Plans. These plans are created (optionally based on templates subject to continuous improvement) and executed by non-technical people to structure complex work in order to achieve individual and shared goals. Improving the templates for the plans makes sure the business people have access to a scalable, flexible, and repeatable structure for their individual activities.

A HIM plan should follow these guidelines:

  • A plan has an overall goal and multiple stages (forming the basic information boundaries of the plan), each with their own sub-goal.
  • In every stage, people have separate responsibilities that lead to the creation of deliverables.
  • Plan cooperators each have their personal copy of the plan, containing the details they need.
  • Plan cooperators negotiate via stage-specific communication channels to further along the plan.
  • A deliverable may be produced by sub-plans and used as input for other cooperators.
  • A plan is created either ad-hoc or based on a template and can afterwards become a new template for future plans.
  • Enterprise Resources are introduced into a plan by defining a task invoking them (through URL, web service…
  • The plan owner manages work in a plan, adjusting use of deliverables and approving statuses as necessary.
  • The information boundaries between plans are different from organizational boundaries, so plans can span over several departments.
  • Communication between collaborators of a plan is usually done over email or similar collaborative tools.

In order to define effective Plans, there is a need for the appropriate approach about change management. HIM comes with such an approach, called Goal-Oriented Organization Design (GOOD). This design is based on the assumption that an enterprise is guided by the following generic change management aims: Ensure that work meets stakeholder needs, deliver results into a business-as-usual environment, maximize benefits from outcomes, and minimize costs associated with delivery. These aims are attended to in 3 stages: Design, Delivery, and Optimization.

The design phase is aimed at strategic control and concerns itself with scope definition, strategic stakeholder management, and Benefits definition. These steps are taken in sequential order, while later phases execute their steps in an iterative manner, with each step influencing all other steps of the same phase. The steps translate into the following deliverables: a process architecture, a Business Motivation Model (BMM) and Benefits profiles.

The next two phases are labeled the executive control. The delivery phase is broken up into requirements management, executive stakeholder management, and risk management. The optimization phase will consist of marketing & communications, and benefits realization. These phases have numerous deliverables (a bit too many to list) associated with them. In order to link a HIM plan with operational processes, this usually means linking them to existing business processes and cases within the company.

Social Modeling will happen on the one hand through the direct coupling of social processes as steps and triggers into our business processes in order to reduce response times to the needs of customers. For example, these triggers can be change notifications through activity streams, blog posts, or even end user feedback. Another way of integrating the social media aspect into our processes, is to integrate the different social media events into the decision processes. Here, the reaction time to these event is paramount, and latency (either in capturing, analyzing or taking decisions based on them) needs to be assessed and mitigated. Any delay in each of these latencies can cause the greatest loss of value.

To emphasize the importance of Social Media, the book lists some statistics from Nielsen about social media use being up significantly since 2011, when this book came out. I have added some more recent statistics drafted by the Pew Research Center survey about social media usage in the United States in 2018. In my opinion, if a similar poll would have been taken in Europe, the results wouldn’t differ that much. But it is clear from these statistics that Youtube and Facebook are market leader that each reach about 70% of the potential client base of organizations. And of its participants, 74% check their Facebook account at least daily. That is a huge net that can be cast over the attention of your potential market segment. These are numbers that a company should not easily ignore when deciding on their social BPM engagement.

Pew Research Center Survey on Social Media (2018)       Pew Research Center Survey on Social Media (2018)
Pew Research Center Survey on Social Media (2018)

The departments that have most easily integrated social media this way, are customer service, marketing and brand reputation management. Every customer interaction (from sales to service) must reflect an organization’s brand. The brand of an organization is the combination of promises by the vendor (delivery in a repeatable, dependable, and consistent manner), associated expectations of the customer, and actual customer experience. Brand identity has largely shifted from what an organization attempts to make it to the general consensus and perception among consumers. This is why organizations should take care to align their delivery with the brand concept that resonates with their market segment.

In order to improve upon brand alignment and customer service processes by determining the effects of each form of customer interaction on the brand, the technique of evidence-based improvement, hailing from the medical research industry, can be used. This technique employs experimentation and rigorous measuring to achieve this. The rigor is making sure decisions are based on gathered facts from the customer interactions. The experimentation happens by treating the status quo as the prototype (starting point for the exercise and benchmark against which to test the improvements), next experimenting and learning by taking appropriate actions. The measurability is to avoid taking decisions based on untested beliefs or uncritical external benchmarks, and instead rely on collections of hard data. This turns into an incremental cycle of collecting data (customer interaction data, behavioral data, and even external reliable data), analyzing that data by reducing noise in the datasets and predictive analytics, and improving upon the results gathered. This improvement can augment the maturity of the business processes, the market segmentation, the customer facing channels, and tune Knowledge Management.

It is still difficult to link the investments into the social media buzz to tangible business outcomes. As mentioned in the evidence-based improvement technique, this is where analytics comes in. These analytics form the basis for setting goals to be achieved for social media strategies. These goals as said before should be linked to the Business Architecture, and play predominantly in the domains of innovation, customer experience, collaboration, supply chain, talent management and overall business growth. Social media is fast becoming the predominant glue holding these domains together.

Important to note is that social media strategies do not only give more input surrounding process improvements, but also gives the organization some tools that can be used to help out in other strategic initiatives. Some examples of this are:

  • Innovation through Crowd Sourcing: Idea Generation, Idea Screening, Concept Development and Testing, Test Launches, and Test Commercialization.
  • Tracking customer perceptions and feedback leading to proactive customer service
  • Proactive Lead Generation
  • Word-of-mouth advertising by social groups
  • Talent Acquisition through interest groups and professional networks
  • Micro campaigns through regional communities, channel networks, and interest groups

The nature of the interactions of social media triggers and data with established business processes can be categorized according to the nature of the participation (one-on-one, few-on-few, and many-on-many), and according to the nature of the interaction:

  • Ad hoc/Unstructured: On the fly interactions that necessitate manual intervention to a workflow.
  • Structured: Well defined and repeatable consistency to known triggers and data.
  • Collaborative: On the fly interactions between participants, but performed within a defined frame of reference or boundary.
  • Not all organizations will immediately go full-blown quantum organization style with their process management. Some might not even bother at all with the social aspect. In order to situate organizations on their transitional path to social process excellence, the book proposes Social BPM adoption levels, as shown on the illustration, with Process Mining standing at the pinnacle. These adoption levels are suggested in part by Marco Brambilla of the Politecnico di Milano in Italy, as well as how the decision and collaboration structure of an organization would change when improving your organization’s adoption level.

    Social BPM Adoption Levels  Social BPM Oriented Organization Structure

    The last few chapters of the book present a few customer cases that have proven successful by employing the techniques and methodologies discussed in the book: A Pro Bono project for the Soi Cats and Dogs Foundation in Bangkok, an ACM solution for the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, and an application of these principles in a Kaizen environment at Ford Motor Company in the United Kingdom. I will not go into detail on these chapters as they serve as examples and thus bring little more info except for their proof-of-concept value.

    The book at the time of this review is already 7 years old, but still has some valid points to teach since the social media hype has solidified itself in everyday life as a mainstay value. One observation is that the book is actively pushing the ACM solution to the foreground as a valid option alongside BPM to tackle the way an organization structures itself. Nowadays, ACM is considered a peer to BPM and most solutions offer both in their modeling and automation capabilities. So, this book has correctly predicted the future outcome of the struggle for ACM acceptance.

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