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Adaptive Case Management is here to stay

If you have been modeling processes for a while, you have probably experienced the situations where nothing seems to work.


If you have been modeling processes for a while, you have probably experienced the situations where nothing seems to work. Suddenly, when discussing a particular process with your audience, your tips and tricks don’t work anymore. And you think “What’s wrong with me?” or “What’s wrong with these people?”.

Here is a potential answer: may be there’s something wrong with the process!

More and more voices are stating that not all processes can be captured as fixed, pre-defined flows. Some processes, mostly characterized as ‘knowledge worker processes’ have an inherent flexibility that cannot be described with traditional BPM techniques.

How to distinguish between an adaptive and an prescriptive process

First question that popped up in my mind was: “How can I recognize these processes when I’m discussing them with my customer?” (Because I don’t want to run into problems again.) I found a potential answer in Jacob P. Ukelson’s chapter of the book ‘Mastering the Unpredictable’ (Meghan-Kiffer Press, ISBN 978-0-929652-12-2, ). Here is my transcript of his ideas. I now use this frequently to check the type of process I am dealing with; it consists of a set of statements in 6 categories of characteristics of a process:

Type of interaction:

– The activities of the process mainly entail interactions with IT applications to capture information and data, without much interaction with other people.

– The activities of the process mainly entail human interactions (e.g. to ask for assistance, collaboration, or to negotiate).

Type of information:

– In the process mainly structured data is filled out on formatted (electronic) forms.

– In the process mainly documents, excel files and other unstructured information is created or received and processed.

Type of control:

– After the completion of an activity in the process, the system decides what the next (prescribed) step is.

– The actors in the follow decide on the next step based on the information they have.

Type of ownership:

– The process has a process owner who decides on the standard (prescribed) flow.

– Every instance of the process has an owner who can decide on the flow, deliverables and timing for that instance.

Type of objective:

– The objectives, time line and deliverables are defined once for all instances of the process.

– The objectives, time line and deliverables are defined separately for every instance of the process.

Type of process description:

– The process documentation describes how the process’s deliverables should be produced.

– The process is described by defining what the outcome of the process should be.

Before starting a discussion on a process, I ask my audience to score each statement of the 6 categories on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 = ‘I agree completely with the first statement’ and 5=’I agree completely with the second statement”. The answers give me an indication like “This is more of an adaptive type of process” or “This is more of a prescriptive type of process.” (I made a simple Excel file that, magically, comes up with the conclusion after you filled out the answers).

How does this help?

First of all it helps me during the process modeling to adapt my style of modeling: it doesn’t make sense to try to force the users to define a predefined process flow when you are dealing with an ‘adaptive’ process. In an adaptive process the possible activities may be known, but the sequence in which they occur cannot be defined in advance. (In many cases not even all activities can be identified upfront.) So for adaptive processes, the process model should say: these are the possible actions (activities), but it is up to the actor to decide what to do next.

Secondly, it also helps to define requirements for the underlying ICT systems. It the past, traditional ICT has neglected processes and process support as a basic requirement (see also the article ‘BPM Misconception: the back-end database doesn’t need to know everything’ that was published in the Architect Newsletter of Microsoft Belgium), and more recently you see that BPM is concentrating on “prescriptive” flows and is neglecting the “adaptive” processes. This is all the more surprising because tools like Microsoft’s SharePoint are ideal to support adaptive processes. If collaboration tools like SharePoint would be integrated more in the traditional software applications (e.g. by creating automatically a workspace or a case for every instance of an adaptive process) users would get a much better support during the execution of the process. I will come back to that in another blog post.

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