Why BPMS and Knowledge Work Don't Mix – when results matter, not activities

Reading the responses to Peter Schoof’s  eBizq question “What type of event leads to BPM vs. what type leads to ACM?” and Sandy Kelmsley blog about “Knowledge Management, Social Media, Social BPM and Control” got me thinking about the link between work activities and work products.  One key difference between ACM and BPM(S) is that BPM(S) presupposes a pretty rigid set of tasks and activities that need to occur to generate a work result (in other words management is in control of the work process, not just expecting results). That implies a tight implicit (or maybe even explicit) link between the activities and the work product. Anything that isn’t directly related to the activities proscribed isn’t seen as bringing value – since it doesn’t enhance the result in any way. So if you aren’t doing the proscribed activities you are goofing off. 

I’ll wager that all of us in the ACM\BPM\ECM community (and everyone reading this blog) don’t work that way – and that a shrinking set of people in developed countries do work that way. It is true that for certain kinds of work a Tayloristic view still holds – my guess would be that is exactly the kind of work that is a prime candidate for outsourcing. For me, the prime goal of ACM is to provide process oriented tools for knowledge workers (augmenting the collaboration tools they already use) – not primarily a way to extend BPMS. Something that I can use to help me in my daily tasks.  I’ll wager that none of us use a BPMS for our daily work.

For most of us knowledge workers – the ability to connect activities to results can only be measured after the fact, not proscribed before the work get done.  If you look at some of the standard mechanisms that companies use to manage knowledge workers – e.g. management by objectives (MBO) – there is no direct attempt to proscribe activities. There is an attempt to proscribe goals – but in my experience the very high level goals stick, the more tactical goals tend to change quite often. Anyone who has ever been part of an MBO process knows that goals change between the time they are agreed upon until they are reviewed. Woe to the employee that comes to their MBO review meeting trying to explain that things failed (because the environment changed) – but they still met all the tactical goals in their MBO. Changing business circumstances, unforeseen changes in the business environment or even changes in personal circumstances all mean that business objectives need to be flexible. So if you can’t even dictate goals – how do you dictate and control activities related to those goals?

If we really want to be serious about building ACM tools for knowledge workers we need to create tools that are usable and adaptive enough that we use them ourselves in our own daily work lives. We need to eat our own dog food.


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