A Dash of Ad Hocery to Manage Workflows

By | July 25, 2010 | BPM

Although an often repeated benefit of workflow management software products is eliminating ad hoc processes, the software should not encourage rigid, mindlessly automated business processes. Many dynamic processes involve interactions among a range of (internal and external) users, as well as content that must be generated, revised, or customized before being routed among different touch-points across the extended enterprise. It can be difficult to contain these interactions in a system based on checking a box on a form, entering information in a field in 16 characters or less, and forwarding the form or document based on the responses without making decisions for the individual handling the process request.

A simple example of allowing some bend in a process is web browsing. Often a site has been built for specific browsers. However, users access these sites with a wide range of browsers, sometimes resulting in a web experience that was not intended by the site designer. One approach would be to make the decision for users and force them to upgrade their browser to one that will faithfully display the site as intended. Another approach provides more accommodation. Notify the user that they may encounter problems if they don’t upgrade, but still allow them to access the site. Similarly, the content and forms that start a process and how they flow through a process must be flexible and easily adaptable to reflect unanticipated situations and small operational changes that occur in the business itself.

Some dynamic business processes that must accommodate human judgment include handling customer service requests, managing the delivery of professional services, product development, or implementing a marketing campaign. These processes require greater freedom, and perhaps a dash of ad hocery, to be satisfactorily completed. In customer service, for example, a user might need to respond to an unanticipated customer request in a way that cannot accurately be entered into the system. Say, an industrial customer makes a request to have display colors on a device modified to be more colorblind friendly. However, the system interprets a color change request as a cosmetic change, resulting in a longer response time or rejection of the request, when it should be considered at a higher level of importance. Human judgment must be accommodated to ensure that the customer’s need is met, even if it means some short-term manual legwork.

Combined with an iterative approach to business process management, a flexible BPM implementation can capture those processes that develop organically and incorporate them into established, automated procedures in a later iteration.

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    Capturing the processes that develop organically is the most important aspect.