BPM and knowledge workers

In our practice and research one of the areas we focus on, is Business Process Management (BPM) in knowledge intensive organization. We think that there are different approaches for BPM needed for tackling the complex issues of increasing the productivity of knowledge workers, than the ‘normal’ BPM approach.

One of the challenges for improving the work of knowledge workers, is that the high level of flexibility and freedom needed in their work. In some cases every customer request is handled and approached differently every time, but in most cases the case is different, but the basic steps are the same. So one way of using BPM in knowledge intensive environments is defining processes on a high level. Within each part the process the knowledge worker is free to approach the case as he/she wants. We used this approach successfully at the Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. Here we defined policy making in process of 4 steps. This helped the organization to standardize the work of policy making throughout the organization and manage the process more efficiently. But we think that there is more to be gained, because in this example inefficient and ineffective ways of approaching the work within one of the basic steps is not handled.

A second approach we use is defining the interaction between the primary process between different departments and other processes. In some cases these interactions are widely spread within and outside the organization. In this we don’t only look within the primary process, but also to the links with supporting processes. Currently we are using this approach at the Dutch Province of South Holland, were we define the most important links to the many internal and external actors. This creates an overview of the most important actors of which knowledge worker is depended. In this case we can help the knowledge worker, with creating an overview but also making agreements with the other actors. For example on the quality delivered and time period. Also here we think there is more to be gained, because sometimes the actors to be involved differ on the case. Especially as the complexity of the cases increases, different expertises (often from different departments) are needed. So here the social networks of a knowledge workers becomes a very important influencing factor.

In this log I will discuss the topic of increasing the productivity of the knowledge worker from a BPM perspective, and share our experiences and progress in research on this field.

A Framework that works

The last month I’ve been so busy with my consulting work, that I didn’t have time to do my posts. Off course, there isn’t such a thing as “no time”, just “not taking the time”. Having realized that, here’s a short update.

I’ve made my first yards in the development of the framework. These yards include making a selection of the main pillars on which, we at YNNO believe, a digitization project must rest, such as: Taxonomies, Metadata structures, Authorization schemas, Document Lifecycle, Registration and Inheritance, Search and Retrieval, Archival and Durability, Processes and Workflow, Conversion and Migration, Interfaces, Social Network Analysis (SNA), User interfaces.

Furthermore, I’m also trying to incorporate aspects of Enterprise 2.0 into the framework, with pillars the likes of: Ease of Use and the Rich User Experience, Perpetual Beta, Innovation in Assembly, Freeform versus Control, Emergent, Social and Collaborative.

And last but not least, the first “main beliefs” of the pillar “taxonomies” are already made explicit from tacit knowledge and experience . Mine, to be exact.

If you’re an ECM consultant and have just read the summary of pillars, you’re probably thinking: “so what, that’s nothing special?” Correct. The framework in it self is nothing special. I’ve become conscious of the fact that making the framework work what’s special.

I realized this during a meeting I had with a colleague of mine in which we discussed a project approach he was writing. We discussed the contents, approach, scope and ambitions and I realized that I was already using the framework as a common vocabulary to talk from and to distill my assumptions from. The result was not “well, you could do this and that, probably”, but instead it was “you should this and not do that, because past experience has shown that it works like that”, and so forth. And that’s the result only after walking a couple of yards! I’m being optimistic, as always, but the potential of filling the “hollow framework” with working knowledge (made explicit) was suddenly crystal clear to me.

At present I’m busy organizing and preparing an interactive session with my colleagues operating in the field of digitization projects at knowledge intensive organizations. In this session we’ll present our main beliefs and use them the lighten up a discussion and to, ultimately, fill the hollow framework and make it work.

I’m being too optimistic when I say that one session will be enough. Maybe enough for the next couple of yards. That’s not a problem. The other thing I realized during the discussion with my colleague was that the value is not just in the destination, the journey is just as important.

In the next post I’ll give some examples of “main beliefs”.

Realising a true digital working environment

Another research area we at YNNO are interested in is identifying the critical success factors for realizing and embedding a successful true digital working environment within an organization.

The research focuses on organizations that are knowledge intensive, with mainly unstructured processes, with high specific information exchanges and a workforce for the most part existing of knowledge workers.

For the last couple of years projects have been started within these organizations with the ambition tot transform the status quo of the unstructured and unregulated digital work (working on fileshares and sharing documents through “anarchy digital communication channels” like e-mail) into a true digital working environment:

  • using regulated repositories for information storage en retrieval
  • incorporating and digitizing the (incoming, internal and outgoing) paper information streams,
  • and transferring information and decision processes through predefined, but flexible, workflows

Alas, the track record of these digitization projects isn’t anything to write home about. Many have failed, or have delivered suboptimal successes. In our opinion this past performance is mainly due to the fact that during the course of the project too many pillars on which the digital working environment must rest, have crumbled.

We at YNNO manage, consult and operate succesfully in this field and for these type of organizations. Our experience is that there are key factors to identify which are critical for achieving the desired results. The research we are conducting has the ambition to:

  • clarify and make explicit these main pillars on which a digitization project must rest and, more importantly,
  • our main belief of how these pillars must be designed, build and maintained to be able to realize and embed a successful digital working environment for the portrayed type of organization.

YNNO consultants use these pillars and main beliefs individually from experience and gained tacit knowledge. An example thereof: the metadata structures (pillar) used in the organization, embedded within the ECM application (main belief):

  1. must serve the archival regulations for structuring and maintaining information,
  2. must be effectively and efficiently updated trough optimalization and maintenance processes
  3. but may not in any way “cripple” the day to day business processes of the organization.

This accumulation forms a nice paradox which has to be balanced during the entire project. The daily practice, unfortunately, is al to frequently a shift in to one specific direction: archival, business or IT. If it does, the pillar is made of the “wrong cement” and will not last long enough for the digital environment to “flourish” within the organization. The more pillars crumble, the higher the change the aspired goals will not be met.

In the current state, the total overview of the pillars and used main beliefs only exist within the separate minds of the YNNO consultants operating in the field (or operating near to it). The goal of the research is to bring these minds together and to extract and build an explicit framework from these available cumulative tacit knowledge and experiences.

This framework will (of course) never replace the tacit knowledge present within YNNO, this is not the aspiration of the research. The aim is to built a strong tool, a common paradigm and vocabulary for YNNO to speak from, to communicate about, to fall back on and to have readily available for the projects at hand.

During my research activities I’ll post my findings within our YNNO blog.