A Process Management Epiphany

Written by Ian James, Nov 7, 2016

The majority of 'knowledge work' is not done by rote. Standard business process management will not work with unstructured processes

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I trained in process management at the end of the nineteen eighties. I have used it in every job I have had since. But I really “got it”, when I started my own business. I was a brand new CEO but I knew exactly what I needed. Once I had more than a few employees, it was time for Process.

That’s when I had an epiphany.

The first place I went to work on was on our consulting engagements. I soon discovered there were an overwhelming number of exceptions. There were many special cases. And things changed too fast to keep up with. Process documentation was out of date almost as soon as it was published.

To my great frustration we were far from being a showpiece of process management. At least as far as process was concerned, we were a mess.

I had to ask myself why. I had been successful with process elsewhere. Why not in my own company? What was different here? The answer seemed to lie in the nature of the work we were doing. It was all about ideas, analysis, and interactions with people.

This kind of work is becoming more and more prevalent. It is now possible to automate a lot of routine work. Rote work, even in clerical jobs, is too costly not to automate. The work that is left is now termed ‘knowledge work’.

Standard Business Process Management Fails with Unstructured Processes

The consultants in my company were highly skilled. They were typical knowledge workers. Their jobs required judgment and experience. There is no way to map out an engagement in advance. In other words, it is highly unstructured. I tried to use the standard BPM approach. And I discovered that it fails with this kind of process.

Then when I looked at the key value-add processes of my clients. I discovered the same was true for them. Too many processes were impossible to reduce to a prescribed set of steps.

Knowing something does not work is only half the story. You need a solution. There seemed to be nothing out there. I set out to see if there was a way to manage this class of process. That is how I ended up with Flexible Process Management. Frustration, rather than necessity, is the mother of invention.

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