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Social Networks and Process Innovation – My 2 Cents

The The specified item was not found. that Richard Hirsch wrote about crowd wisdom for process innovation is Interesting indeed, but I think it somewhat misses the mark. Before going any further, in the nature of full disclosure, I should point out that I work in Michael Bechauf’s organiztaion. That said, my opinion here is my own.

In my opinion, processes are defined to achieve something. They are steps to a particular goal, a roadmap for getting somewhere. There can be metrics that assess the effectiveness of achieving that goal, and those KPIs are relevant regardless of what process is followed. If we stick with the roadmap analogy, you can measure the amount of time it took you to get from A to B. That KPI, i.e. amount of time, is an appropriate metric for measuring the effectiveness of getting from A to B no matter what route I take. You can use the crowd to try to get insight into how a process can be improved (“turn left here, it’s a shortcut”), and better KPI results will show that you’ve succeeded in making the process more efficient. However, once that process is more efficient, it should replace the standard process for achieving that goal. You now know the current best way to get from A to B. At least until it is again displaced by a new process (a new shortcut is discovered). Different people know their different neighborhoods better, and can provide that specific insight, so the wisdom of the crowd can really help in this regard.

You can use these kinds of dynamic process innovation experiments with the crowd to try to find better ways of doing things, as Richard suggests, and if you succeed, as indicated by the KPIs, you’ve got yourself a new process definition. My point is, however, that this kind of innovation is not for the faint of heart, because there’s a decent chance you can get lost along the way. You can try something new and find out the short cut is actually a long cut.  Your KPIs won’t show an improvement, and you’ve spent more time trying to accomplish an already defined process. From a business perspective then, the majority of people should just follow the currently defined best known process, but BPXers who focus on process innovation can and should use the wisdom of their networks to find improvements to the process.

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  • I was reading your blog with interest but didn’t really understand it.
    first, what is that disclosure about? Are we all supposed to know who Michael Bechauf is and what ‘his organisation’ is? what is his organisation? does that disclosure imply any prejudice of yours or ‘the organisation’ in the issue at stake? does your pointing out that the thoughts presented are yours mean that you get any problems with ‘the organisation’? hopefully not!

    now coming to the essence of your blog, I read it that the average customer better not use all the nice and new BPM tools to refine his processes, innovate and even differentiate? but why then does SAP design all those tools to be usable by the none-geek to potentially design processes without the need of any programming knowhow and allegedly highly accelerate the lifecycle of processes or parts thereof?

    moreover, I don’t understand why it should be a risk to include the wisdom of the crowd as input into your every-day decision-making process of refining your business processes; doesn’t a specific modus operandi accepted my the majority of the crowd at a given time constitute a best practice?
    isn’t a highly (industry) standardized process one that incorporates a number of tradeoffs and therefore – given that you have the neat tools at hand to tune here and there and innovate and differentiate – asks to be used as a basis to ‘customize’ your specific, desired process rather than using the out-of-the-box variant?

    social networks in my opinion _can_ give you much faster feedback on the quality of execution of your processes and this feedback calls for using the new tools and adjust the processes to reach your goals if necessary. ajust them faster or at least as fast as the competitor and not necessarily rely on the software vendor’s standard product lifecycle.

    My conclusion: Innovate. Co-operate. Collaborate. Make Decisions. Continuously.

    My 2 cents,

    • Hi Anton,

      Sorry for the confusion.  I work for Michael, and I wanted to point that out because his initial twitter conversation was what started the thread.  I was trying to point out that although I am employed by Michael, my opinion isn’t colored by that fact. 

      A brief response would be that SAP obviously wants to support process innovation.  No question.  I just don’t think it’s practical to change the process _every_ time you execute it, which seemed to be Richard’s ‘dynamic process’ concept. Once you have defined a process, the process owner should always be seeking ways to make it better.  People who are executing the process can provide feedback, and I fully agree that social networks can and should be utilized for process innovation.

      However, Joe User, who is expected to execute the process, shouldn’t be the one focused on improving it.  That’s not their job, but rather the job of a BPX or process owner.  If Joe User sees an opportunity to experiment and improve the process, and the organization allows them the flexibility, then great, go for it.  And if it works, then the BPX will have valuable input for improving the process for the rest of the normal users. 

      But, if everyone is experimenting all the time, nothing will get done.  So, from a business perspective, IMO, process evolution will function best if one owner takes input from the crowd and maybe a moderate level of experimentation by users, but that the majority of users simply execute the current best business process design. 

      Does that make it more clear?



      • I’m glad we agree that process evolution is important. I also agree that a corporation that didn’t have standardized processes would be inefficient.  Where we disagree is the instigator of this evolution. In your last comment, you suggest “However, Joe User, who is expected to execute the process, shouldn’t be the one focused on improving it. That’s not their job, but rather the job of a BPX or process owner.”. In today’s world of crises, everyone should be focused on improving processes. BPXs aren’t some sort of omnipotent creatures who know all. They are dependent on those process experts who understand what really goes on in a process. BPXs have the methodology but they usually don’t have an understanding of all aspects of the process. They can’t. They usually jump from one process improvement project to the next.

        Thus, social networks provide this depth of process knowledge that is necessary to get to the heart of the process inefficiencies. The BPX should seek out and collaborate with such individuals in order to improve processes. Social networks are one tool but not the only tool that BPXs can use.


        • I don’t think we disagree at all actually.

          I agree that Joe User should provide feedback about how to improve that process, but I still think that their focus should be on executing the process.  The BPX will focus on taking all the feedback that he gets from the users and the crowd and determine what the best improvements to the process will be.

          The apparent difference would be on the area of focus.  It’s the BPXers primary function to improve the process, and it’s Joe User’s primary function to execute.  I wasn’t proposing that they exclusively focus on those tasks, but I do think that those tasks are their focus and that social networks can help them both be more efficient.

          Good discussion!


          • Regardless the different roles involved in process improvement or innovation there will always be business processes in a company where you need higher standards (e.g. because of the economic or strategic impact, compliance…) and others where a minimum set of standards is sufficient.

            Therefore the degree and type of collaboration you need to achieve the most beneficial results is depending on the respective business process. If you agree, this can be a starting point to “define a process to deal with process evolution with social networks” as Richard Hirsch wrote…


          • While reading both blogs I started thinking about their resemblance to the discussion of how much independence should an employee has and the level of authority the management should be granted. As far as I remember, the answer is that it is always specific to the different sectors the company operates. Probably that is why SAP provides tailored solutions of one and the same product for so many different industries. As it will probably do with the BPX solutions as they mature further on.

            Additionally I think that the BPXer and Joe User (the process performer) are designations of roles and not necessary two different humans performing the role in question (as discussed in the book BPM – the SAP Roadmap). They might overlap to different extent depending on a number of factors, such as: the structure of the organisation, their experience, their resources to conduct tests in a controlled environment, and so on.

            That is why I feel that you are all standing on one and the same side of the barricade (or the keyboard ;- ))). Probably the organisations that we work for have different visions about the processes. We, as part of the social network within and around the organisations have the power to influence them.

      • Hi Steve,

        thx for clarifying things a little so that even I do understand it.

        Given your latest comment as well as Dicks comment I think we can all agree that in today’s world it is almost mandatory to continuously work on one’s processes and try to improve them and react properly to the ever changing environment.

        Regarding the Joe User example I tend to agree with Dick and not underestimate Joes expertise on the part of the process he is involved with and value his feedback. Of course it is not in his responsibility to innovate on the whole process or even experiment on his end, but actually he and his fellows work in that process every day and together form a valuable crowd wisdom about the process execution details. I have been told that at some places not only objective numbers are used as KPIs but also Joe User’s opinion (“Are you happy with the actual throughput at your place, Joe?”). This wisdom should influence the BPXers daily innovation work.

        regards, anton

    • Anton wrote: “doesn’t a specific modus operandi accepted my(by) the majority of the crowd at a given time constitute a best practice?”
      One should say it constitutes a “leading practice”, as in a majority process.  A world of difference between leading and best.  Best would imply quality ratings as opposed to sheer numbers.  The point Kathy Sierra made in her critique of wisdom of crowds (quoted in my comments to Dick’s original post)was that you could have a lot of smart folks out there creating a “ stupid consensus“.
      Without a proper rating system that is linked to some concrete positive results, one should be a little prudent when waving the “wisdom of crowds” flag.  Although I fully agree that social networks can give you “faster feedback on the quality of execution of your proccesses and this feedback calls for using the new tools and adjusting the processes if necessary” as you so correctly point out, a word of caution. I am really wary of “leading practices”.