A fancy pants buzzword for everyday work

By Neil Richardson

Adaptive case management appears to be the current buzz word in the workflow and BPM world. Not only is it a bit of a mouthful, it also seems surprisingly hard to explain if someone asks you to. Check out Wikipedia to see what I mean! To paraphrase Emperor Joseph II to Mozart in 1782, “too many words”.

However as a concept I don’t think it is that complicated. Sometimes during my work day, a situation arises that makes me do something in a completely different way or sequence to normal. As an experienced ‘knowledge worker’, I will make a subjective and informed decision to do this particular job differently. I’m not subverting policies or breaching compliance, I just know from looking at this job that it needs to be tackled from a different direction. Think about an ‘all systems down’ crisis at a customer.

For people who are accustomed to directing their own daily activities that doesn’t seem too complicated, does it? And when your work tools are telephone, email, Word and Excel there is nothing to stop you being nimble enough to do it. The problem for a business is there is no overarching management framework. It is your good judgement that addresses issues of compliance. Your experience, maturity and indeed mood, contrive your productivity and effectiveness. Your absolute value to the business or contribution to profit may even go unmeasured and uncompared.

Most businesses set out on a journey of straight-line efficiency at various stages of their maturity. When the business has implemented (or is planning to implement) a workflow automation system this dynamic and adaptive approach suddenly becomes hugely complicated. Most workflow applications insist on pre-determined task paths with little arrows pointing the way forward at every step. That model falls asunder when you start talking about responding to an evolving situation on the fly. I blogged on this back in June 2013  as well. I sometimes use the example of concrete pavements versus cow paths to help people grasp the difference (by the way, for humans they call them “desire paths” but same thing really).

For a BPMS or workflow automation tool to be truly effective in a knowledge-based environment it must not be limited by predefined arrows and “if-then-else” rules. It needs to allow someone in the throes of an activity to dynamically introduce possibly completely new steps, or to pick a next step that is not obvious. It needs to let you juggle individual tasks and even total end-to-end processes in a way that reflects the demands of the situation. It needs to let you contact other colleagues for assistance and guidance in a way that makes the conversation traceable and auditable (not just forcing you out to email). It needs to let you create ad hoc steps for yourself and others in-train and on-the fly – even a task that may have never been done before and has no precedence – and keep those steps on the timeline, compliant and reportable. Something of interest to process improvement experts, those ad hoc activities may actually be emerging ‘better practices’ so they need to be part of performance analyses.

All of these traits are the sort of features that a BPMS or intelligent business operations suite (iBOS) must have to be truly effective in the knowledge economy. And of course the ability to analyse and report in a way that satisfies the needs of management and the process improvement experts. Have a look at XMPro to see how this could work for you.

Neil Richardson is Sales Manager at solutions provider Professional Advantage