Preventable Faillure, Unavoidable Failure, Intelligent Failure

One thing that has always bothered me about the BPM and ACM communities is that we are all techies. We claim to provide tools in direct support of the business, but in reality very few business people actually care about the nuances in the ongoing BPM vs. ACM argument – or even understand (or care about) what those tools actually are. My guess is that for most business people our ongoing ACM vs BPM vs ECM conversation is about as interesting as an argument about “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”. We need to focus on business issues in terminology that business people can understand and appreciate.

I was reading an article in the Harvard Business Review on “Strategies for Learning from Failure” by Amy C. Edmondson and she made some very interesting points that are very relevant for a BPM vs ACM comparison from a business perspective.  She points out that mistakes (really business process issues – but she doesn’t call them that) fall into three broad categories – preventable, complexity-related, and intelligent. Many of the articles in the same issue use a similar taxonomy to talk about the context of failure. I really liked the article (and the issue in general) because even though most don’t use the process word explicitly – they are really talking about business processes – structured, semi-structured and unstructured. But since they are business oriented, rather than technically oriented – they use very different terminology than us here in ACM\BPM\ECM community.

Using her taxonomy – BPM (as it used today) is focused on optimizing and “preventing failure in predictable operations”. She doesn’t use the words BPM anywhere but it is clear for anyone with any knowledge of BPM that a BPM  system would help enormously in this context. It is interesting that she talks about checklists in this context – which supports the idea that if ACM is easy enough to implement and use – it can provide much of the benefit of a full fledged BPM system, or at least be a good first step towards a full fledged BPM. I think this is what worries BPM vendors most.

In the second category – “unavoidable failures in complex systems”, she states that “a large number of organizational failures are due to the inherent uncertainty of work. A particular combination of needs, people and problems may have never occured before.”  In my mind she is describing exactly the domain that ACM targets – with the goals of ensuring that “small failures” don’t go unnoticed and cause a catastropic failure, and gathering information about the actual execution of the process to facilitate best practice creation and learning. For me this is why knowledge work needs ACM.

The third category “intelligent failure at the frontier’ – this is where people are truly innovating, experimenting and learning new things or “when answers are not known in advance because this exact situation has not been encountered before and perhaps never will be again”.  I don’t think ACM or BPM provide much assistance here.

So more than a technical under pinning for the ACM vs BPM debate which always seems to devolve into a feature\ function discussion by vendors and analysts, I think we need a business underpinning for process – and use that to define the different tools using a business context.

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3 Responses to “Preventable Faillure, Unavoidable Failure, Intelligent Failure”

  1. Failure is Essential to Knowledge Work | Collaborative Planning & Social Business Says:

    […] Ukelson wrote in “Preventable Faillure, Unavoidable Failure, Intelligent Failure” that these categories can be used to explain the deployment of BPM and ACM.  BPM is used to […]

  2. kswenson Says:

    Great post. I made a mention of this at: Failure is Essential to Knowledge Work

    http://social-biz.org/2011/10/24/failure-is-essential-to-knowledge-work/

  3. Business Process and Adaptive Case Management News and Information » Failure is Essential to Knowledge Work | Collaborative Planning … Says:

    […] Ukelson wrote in “Preventable Faillure, Unavoidable Failure, Intelligent Failure” that these categories can be used to explain the deployment of BPM and ACM.  BPM is used to […]

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