Lean Startup processes reduce waste and add value by increasing the frequency of contact with real customers, therefore testing and avoiding incorrect assumptions as early as possible.

Applying this approach to business process improvement brings with it an interesting dimension of agility to Lean, and so it has joined other methodologies in my toolkit, especially as I look at improving elements of the value stream closest to the customer.

SCRUM is another approach that I find toolkit worthy because it promises, and most often delivers, increased speed. One of my insurance industry customers at OpenText Business Process Solutions (formerly Global 360) shared a success story with me about their use of SCRUM followed by automation using our Business Process Management (BPM) suite.

Because SCRUM is a people-centered approach, using it not only brought agility but also facilitated the adoption. The BPM tool assured that repeatable activities could be automated to drive productivity by removing the burden on manual processes.

Perhaps at this point I might have considered my personal toolkit full and my journey might have taken me no further. But I began focusing more and more on the unstructured, unpredictable aspects of business, searching for an addition to my toolkit to help drive improvements there and retain the elements of lean thinking and speed to results.

Dealing with Business as it Happens -- Using Adaptive Case Management

It became clear to me that with the rise in significance of knowledge work to business, I would need an improvement approach that addressed the ability to deal with business as it happens.

As I’m sure Gordo Cooper would agree, all the best pilots have this ability to deal with events and information as they unfold and to handle the unexpected with a combination of systems and judgment.

Further, while every process might benefit from Lean thinking and every project might be improved with approaches that facilitate adoption, relevance and speed to results, not every activity can be mapped and then automated. However, many process improvement efforts can benefit from creating an environment that enhances knowledge workers’ ability to do their work.

Adaptive case management enables knowledge workers to interact with information and perform work in their own unique ways to best respond to changing circumstances. That means the ability to manage error exceptions as well as unusual circumstances.

This is one of the distinctive elements of adaptive case management -- the concept that in many instances the process participants are involved in defining specific actions for a case and at other times need to respond to the course the case takes. Rather than modeling the entire business process ahead of time, you have an environment that supports access to information and progression through tasks as needed to achieve the goal.

For one community bank I worked with recently, adaptive case management proved to be a cornerstone of their improvements across more than 200 processes.

While what emerged is perhaps not the same as the unique personal interactions that community banks once had with their customers, it does enable more personalized and personal service to occur in today’s environment. And the added advantage is that these interactions are now less costly and more streamlined because they are no long bogged down in a paper chase or manual efforts. Thus fees and rates can be more competitive without sacrificing profitability. And, guardrails are in place to balance compliance with personal judgment to best serve the customer and ultimately, the business.

Adaptive case management is one of my favorite legs along my journey in search of process improvement. I have encountered use case after use case where adaptive case management has helped to ensure that knowledge workers can benefit their organizations by avoiding waste in the way they perform their work by doing only those things that create value for customers, giving them flexibility to respond quickly to new customer needs.

The Best Approach

My journey is of course personal to me and (hopefully) is not over yet. While many of you may have experienced a similar journey, I’m equally sure that others have found a different way. So when I’m asked which approach is THE best to drive business process performance improvement, I don’t hesitate to say “you’re lookin’ at ‘im” -- it’s the one that works best for you.

P.S. Just make sure it has a strong and immediate impact on the people and moments that define business performance to your customer.

Editor's Note: To read more of Deb Miller's writings on Adaptive Case Management: