This month we have been looking at Information Agility, describing it as a way of not just managing our information, but also of managing it such a way so as to be able to respond to rapid changes taking place in the market.

Here we will look at business processes and how agility is finding its way into business process management to make them more effective and more responsiveness to those changing circumstances.  

In January this year Gartner released its BPM for 2010 and beyond. Gartner does this every year and in doing so is very careful for obvious reasons to define exactly what it means as business process management.

What is Agile Business Process Management?

Business process management, the report says, is a way to automate and manage structured, repeatable business processes. Business processes are typically a set of activities, inputs and outputs that together to achieve a particular business goal.

Agility, we said, is the abiity to respond to our information quickly to a set of given circumstances.

Agile BPM, therefore, from the BPM side of the equation, provides automated and managed structures to provide repeatable business processes, while at the same time, from the agile side of the equation, provides the ability to act immediately, in real time to circumstances that are unforeseen in those processes.

So Agile BPM moves processes out of a pre-defined and predictable processes box into handling difficult cases that elude traditional formalized process management techniques.

Agile BPM and the Enterprise

In a recent Fujitsu sponsored webinar Keith Swenson, VP of Research and Development at Fujitsu America, and Sandy Kemsley, an independent analyst with a special expertise in BPM, outlined how Agile BPM is increasingly becoming the norm in enterprises rather than the exception.

Agile BPM, they argued, applies to businesses where:

  • Unpredictable is common
  • Where business processes cannot change quickly enough for business practices
  • Where knowledge workers need to focus on achieving goals rather than repetitive tasks

Agile BPM Drivers

From this two different trends have been identified for the adoption of Agile BPM and can be described in cause and effect terms:

  • Cause: Routine work is being replaced by knowledge work where knowledge workers are working on more complex problems.  Effect: BPM systems are responding to this need by becoming more agile so that business process can be modified on the fly.
  • Cause: The value of collaboration in business is being recognized as a way to get most input on how business processes should change. Effect: BPM systems are providing functionality to enable users more easily collaborate

Characteristics of Agile BPM

To respond to the rigidity of traditional BPM, Agile BPM must display the following characteristics:

  • Users can change processes on the fly responding to current conditions but without changing the  model
  • An ability to deal with unstructured work
  • Knowledge of the conditions those process are operating in provided by predictive analytics

This can be summed up as: 

BPM v Agile BPM differences summary 2.jpg

BPM v Agile BPM. From Dancing With Elephants: Webinar on Agile and Social Processes, by Sandy Kemsley
 

Practically speaking, a BPM structure might be applied where common financial transactions are used regularly and need to be carried out in the same way every time for compliance reasons. On the other hand, for Agile BPM you may have a health care scenario where patients are referred to a doctor for the same malady, but require variations of the same treatment to deal with it.

Looking at both these cases and the progress of BPM to Agile BPM it is clear that at the moment in most enterprises neither one nor the other is used exclusively.

BPM and Agile BPM Together

Generally, to achieve enterprise goals a combination of the two is either required, or make the processes more efficient.

However, some BPM software does not allow users to carry out Agile processes. The result is that they step outside the system to resolve problems bringing the solution back in.

In such a case, when the analytics are examined it will be impossible for anyone to understand why a process that shows up as having taken three minutes to perform will actually have taken three hours with time outside the system included.

BPM v Agile BPM common ground.jpg

BPm and Agile BPM common ground Dancing With Elephants: Webinar on Agile and Social Processes, By Sandy Kemsley
 

The reverse is also true. In some Agile systems like the health care example we have already used, the initial processes may be the same all the time, before the ‘agile' processes come into play.

In both these scenarios, it is generally possible to apply elements of each, meaning that in many Agile systems you will find traditional BPM processes, while in many traditional BPM systems you will find Agile elements.

BPM, Agile BPM and Social BPM

There is one further area of BPM that is becoming increasingly common and which needs to be addressed. That area is social BPM and how it creates flexibility.

Last week, the Director of ECM Strategy at Laserfiche, Andy Wang argued that giving employees more input -- via wikis, social networks, blogs and the like -- into the way workflows are structured and executed should make them more invested, and more efficient in their work. Without flexible BPM tools, this is not possible.

A recent survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit shows that 80% of the organizations that have implemented formal initiatives to improve business processes over the past three years have faced employee resistance.

Two of the major causes of this reluctance to change were:

  • Employees had little or no say in determining the new process (31%),
  • New process didn’t map to the way employees thought their jobs should be done (28%).

It would make sense, then, that giving employees more input into the way workflows are structured and executed would reduce this resistance to change.

Both Kemsley and Swenson agree that the application of collaboration has far reaching results including:

  • Workers become more engaged in resolving problem
  • Allows workers to use their knowledge and relationships to assign tasks

While there is still much work to be done to combine both BPM and Agile BPM across enterprises at least the value of doing so is becoming increasingly clear.

Using both, enterprises can expect to achieve more efficient processes that take less process development time and with the social element the ability to gather all the available information from the workforce to create the most effective processes possible.