Case management is proving to be an important means of delivering process improvement to solve critical business challenges, regardless of industry or type of process. Just a few examples include Chartis Insurance accelerating their loan application and underwriting response time, AEGON Financial Services improving their invoice processing, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reducing costs of responding to information requests. While these examples are widely different, they share some common characteristics. This opens the opportunity to learn and leverage not just from other company best practices in your industry, but also from those in completely different industries -- a core principle of “knowledge brokering.”

Patterns of Work

Case management is on the rise because traditional business process management technology puts process automation as the focal point, but knowledge work does not always have a predefined process. Case management can use data as a focal point for business improvement, delivering information that helps knowledge workers deal with complex unstructured process areas. Other examples of cases to be managed include a patient record, a lawsuit, an insurance claim, a new bank account, a disputed order, or a contract. Throughout all of these examples the common theme is the need for human judgment based on relevant information in order to make progress -- to solve problems, quickly make the right decisions and take action.

Case management is a pattern of work that’s highly dynamic, in which a group of people systematically collaborate in structured and ad-hoc ways on a case folder using business process management, document management and collaboration tools."1 – Connie Moore, Forrester Research Inc.

Forrester Research has identified three case categories that have common characteristics in their recently published The Forrester Wave Dynamic Case Management Q1 2011 research report:

  • Investigative -- driven by the need for greater transparency
  • Service Requests -- focused on improving human communications
  • Incident Management -- cases triggered by events

For each of these, the case management approach is to amplify rather than replace human collaboration in the respective cases patterns to improve productivity, process efficiency, and business outcomes.

Adaptive Processes

The other common theme in case management patterns of work is the notion of adaptive processes. Case management enables knowledge workers to interact with information and perform work in their own unique ways to best respond to changing circumstances. In effect, to deal with business as it happens. This is one of the distinctive elements of adaptive case management -- the concept that the process participants are involved in defining specific actions for a case in response to the course it takes. Instead of modeling the entire business process ahead of time, you have an environment that supports access to information as needed to achieve the goal.

Allowing a case worker to make their own determination about what needs to be done and when to achieve the goal -- for example, tracking deadlines, referencing documents, incorporating people’s responses -- is critically important. To enable this autonomy, you can have a case that triggers three or four or a dozen different processes, all running at the same time, doing different kinds of activities, and all applied back to that same case.

Knowledge Brokering Holds Promise

While vertical industry context is critical to meaningful process improvements, the notion of case management as a pattern of work opens the door to faster improvements through “knowledge brokering.”

As defined by McKinsey, knowledge brokering is a systematic approach to seeking ideas from people in a variety of industries, disciplines and contexts and then of combining the resulting lessons in new ways.

For example, a bank took the lesson of “dynamic queuing” from UK grocer Tesco to create a process solution that used back-office staffers to substitute for tellers when the foot traffic in a branch exceeds certain thresholds. Like best-practice benchmarking, knowledge brokering aims to find -- not invent -- world-class answers to problems. McKinsey studies revealed that on average, knowledge brokering helped teams design new and improved processes twice as quickly as they would have expected to do by using other more conventional techniques.2

Aided by technology, this practice helps organizations apply a lesson learned in one environment to their environment. So for example, in the financial services industry, underwriting of new insurance policies or credit risk checking for new bank loans requires complex judgments to be made based on several types of information; as does credit risk checking for new suppliers in the manufacturing sector. Certainly creative best practices for target process improvement could well apply across these industries.

I have spent a good part of my career insisting that context and domain knowledge in specific vertical industries are critical to effective process improvement. I continue to believe that. However, I must admit that with case management, I see enormous potential for cross-industry benefit through the application of lessons learned in other vertical industries to similar case management types that share common drivers and characteristics.

With a case management strategy, organizations have achieved 20 to 35% current year productivity gains in their respective industries. Just imagine what might be possible if we start cross-pollinating these best practices.


  1. Go Lean With Case Management, Forrester Research, Connie Moore’s BLOG Posted: 18 Aug 2009 07:48 AM PDT
  2. Using Knowledge Brokering to Improve Business Processes, McKinsey Quarterly, January 2010

[Editor's Notes: You may be interested in other articles by Deb Miller.]