As a BPX, I kept thinking about this conversation and it resonated in my memory. Although the conversation is relatively short, there are some very interesting ideas that I’d like to examine in more detail. I’d especially like to focus on the idea of human involvement in processes as described in the conversation:
“Human disambiguation would be let the network of followers help me decide what to do next”
A Broader Look at Processes
Before we take a closer look at human involvement in this context, let’s take a broader look at processes.
Processes are usually static entities with a certain number of steps / tasks that may be spread over various roles / individuals. Of course, there might be various paths through this process but these paths are known. This static quality is necessary to assure that corporate “behavior” in the form of processes is repeatable and thus, measurable. Without this structure, “chaos would reign” and employees wouldn’t know what to expect when confronted with a problem.
I’m assuming that many of us wouldn’t feel comfortable if we didn’t have structure / rituals in our lives – corporate and personal. Dealing with unexpected events is often difficult and tedious – stressful.
However, from a corporate perspective, these unexpected events also represent innovation and opportunity. Such changes often occur in periods of social and economic upheaval where those corporations that are able to adapt quickly are able to grab market share from others that are slower or unable to adapt.
Social Networks and Unexpected Processes
Let’s return to the twitter conversation between James and Michael and see whether it is relevant to our discussion.
What happens when an employee is confronted with a problem / task? If the problem is known and has been performed many times (creating a PO, for example), there is a probably a process that has already been defined and, in all likelihood, is supported by technology – irregardless of what tools / software are involved. What happens, however, when this task is new our unexpected? Of course, “new” and “undefined” are subjective. A new employee might be asked to perform a task for which a process has been defined but is unknown to the new employee. The new hire could then ask a social network in the corporation (irregardless of which tool is used) and be pointed to a description of the process.
If you look at the conversation between James and Michael, they are discussing another use of this social network. They are implying that this social network doesn’t just provide information about existing processes but is used to define the process itself
What would this behavior lead to?
- Dynamic processes that would reflect the knowledge of the network itself
- Each process could be unique and thus, process-related KPIs/metrics impossible. Each process might occur once and then never again. However, if the employee facing the problem was able to solve the problem more efficiently than if he had acted differently; wouldn’t the value of a “one-time-use” process still be demonstrated?
Of course, if all enterprise problems / tasks would be dealt in this manner, employees would be constantly bombarded by messages referring to tasks with the request to define an appropriate dynamic process. Thus, the use of social networks to deal with unexpected problems might be restricted to such problems where such an analysis is appropriate.
The next challenge is associated with the necessity of identifying what tasks are new / unexpected. One employee can’t be expected to know all processes in his corporation, so how will this individual know when to use his network to define a new process? Maybe, ask his/her network? This ability to question whether a problem is new or not shouldn’t be restricted to some committee of process experts, because then you would have a bottleneck that would prohibit the most efficient use of the corporate knowledge pool.
This dynamic process definition would lead to process evolution in which more efficient processes might be more likely to survive. Such an evolution is only possible if a newly designed process could somehow be saved and performed again. Thus, there must also be an avenue to move these newly defined processes into the existing process landscape. If this is not done, the benefits of this new process might not be widespread. Therefore, these Web 2.0 tools need tight integration into existing process technology to support this transition.
As depicted above, social networks help the enterprise deal with unexpected / new tasks. Such networks might also be used to look at existing processes and see if they still work / could be improved. This would assure that old processes aren’t inefficient.
The basic premise of the ideas regarding the value of social networks is based on the assumption that the knowledge of the “crowd” is more appropriate / better than that of isolated experts (including BPXs). Of course, if an individual has a small network of inexperienced / new employees, then this network might not be efficient as a group of process experts. The ability of such Web 2.0 tools to support “discovery” is thus critical to assure that problems are solved the most competently. “Discovery” means the ability of users asking questions or looking for information to find / discover those individuals who are most likely to be able to assist them.
In order to support such process evolution, BPXs must be willing to use such Web 2.0 tools, be willing to engage with individuals who have questions, be willing to involve “the crowd” in the definition of processes and finally view collaboration as one amongst equals rather than an expert preaching the gospel to a group of possible converts.
Note: While I was writing this blog, I was struck by the problem of how to best to re-use information from one Web 2.0 tool in another environment – in this case, twitter / microblogging to a blog. Ideally, I would have the possibility of marking this twitter conversation and moving into a blog so that I could use this information more efficiently. Without such smooth transitions, each tool will remain its own island which will prohibit a better utilization of its knowledge.