BPM Milan: BPM with Social Software Systems

The first paper of the day was presented by Petia Wohed of the Department of Computer and Systems Sciences in Stockholm (a joint department between the University of Stockholm and the Royal Institute of Technology), also authored by Paul Johannesson and Birger Andersson, entitled “Business Process Management with Social Software Systems – a New Paradigm for Work Organisation”.

She covered some concepts of social software, and pointed out that a lot of social software allows for interaction and information gathering without specific goals, but that there’s also social software targeted at social production through voluntary contributions by peers in networks, where there are specific goals and artifacts. Although she uses the example of Wikipedia, I think that we need a different example for discussing social production in business: although it’s an accurate model of what we want to create within enterprises, many people don’t consider it a credible resource precisely because it is crowdsourced. Of course, we also need to get many organizations past the concept that knowledge creation has to be dictated from an authority rather than voluntary grass-roots participation; both management and front-line workers are complicit in maintaining this culture. I’m off on a tangent here — something that I probably shouldn’t do extemporaneously while I’m live-blogging a session — but I still see a major issue between capability and culture: social software tools exist to make all this possible, but corporate culture often hinders it.

She discussed the nature of management, and the activities involved in it, then how the mechanism of both BPMS and social software can be used to support management activities. She had a very interesting table showing this alignment, as a lead-in to discussing how social software can be used to complement BPMS (which include new design paradigms for BPM):

  • Design processes with a minimum of control flow: process flow becomes ad hoc, decided on by the knowledge worker responsible for a process instance
  • Embed processes in a social context: show the larger context of the process in terms of other participants and historical process instances
  • Design for low activity threshold: make process tasks fine-grained so that individuals are encouraged to complete them [this seems somewhat counter to the first point, however]
  • Use honor points for rewards: encourage voluntary participation

The whole point of this is moving from an assembly line view of BPM to a work station view, where a knowledge worker takes responsibility for a particular process instance, and decides if and when they need to bring someone else into the process in order to complete it. I believe that the key issues are identifying which processes — or tasks within processes — can most benefit from this new paradigm (some processes, especially those with many automated steps or specific compliance requirements, may be more suited to a more structured process flow), and whether many organizations are ready to adopt these methods.

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