Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence

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Is “Knowledge Worker” the Best Term for Decision Engineering?

In a day and age where the automation of operational business decisions is increasingly the goal, I maintain that knowledge worker is the wrong term for business process modeling. The term is simply too broad. Instead I use the terms white-collar worker and gold-collar worker. What’s the key differentiation?    
    • Gold-collar workers. The work of gold-collar workers involves non-routine problem solving, which requires a “a combination of convergent, divergent, and creative thinking” [Wikipedia].
    • White-collar workers. The work of white-collar workers involves fairly repetitious sets of tasks, which at least in theory should produce relatively consistent results. Also, white-collar workers generally receive much less training than gold-collar workers.
Although the boundary between the two categories is somewhat fuzzy, I believe they generally can be distinguished. Relevant questions include:
    • How routine is the work?
    • How consistent should results of the work be?
    • How much training is required?
As an example, consider loan officers in a bank handling applications for mortgages. White-collar or gold collar?
    • Routineness. I’d call their work relatively routine. Even though each loan application is different and might involve special cases or exceptions, the work is always about mortgages.
    • Consistency. You’d like to think different loan officers could produce consistent results on similar kinds of loan applications. Although certainly true in theory, it’s often not the case in practice. More about that momentarily.
    • Training. Although loan officers do receive significant training and mentoring, it’s not on the order of years as for gold-collar workers.
Based on this analysis I believe loan officers fall into the white-collar category. What about consistency of results? I’ve seen studies comparing results across peers with roughly the same training and experience. The numbers are significantly lower than you might expect. That’s not at all a good thing for either customer experience or the well-being of their organizations. So why not automate the white-collar decision-making work?! Automating white-collar decision-making work well is exactly the focus of business rules and decision engineering. From experience, I’m certain that at least 50% to 80% (maybe more) of the decision work for mortgage applications can be automated, especially if a company is willing to standardize and simplify the adjudication rules some. Huge benefits can be achieved in terms of consistent customer experience, higher productivity, and directly provable compliance. P.S. Mortgage applications are not automated well if rules simply refer applications to humans when the rules cannot handle them. www.BRSolutions.com

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Knowledge Worker vs. White-Collar Worker: Opinions Needed

Knowledge worker is a term bandied about in discussion of business process management (BPM). Is it synonymous with white-collar worker, or different? How do you use the term? I ask because there’s significant new and significant interest in automating new areas of white-collar work so as to render it more consistent, traceable and scalable. That requires capturing and encoding the know-how as business rules and on a broader scale, engineering and automating operational business decisions. Knowledge is a very far-ranging term, and there are many forms of knowledge beyond day-to-day operations of a business. Does it confuse the issue to call white-collar workers “knowledge workers”? Is knowledge worker perhaps a broader term than white-collar worker? Which term works best in your organization? Here is some background information from Wikipedia. I confess I have never heard the term gold collar before, but it seems to me there’s an important potential difference there. White-Collar Worker

A white-collar worker is a person who performs professional, managerial, or administrative work. Typically, white-collar work is performed in an office or cubicle. Other types of work are those of a blue-collar worker, whose job requires manual labor and a pink-collar worker, whose labor is related to customer interaction, entertainment, sales, or other service oriented work. Many occupations blend blue, white and/or pink (service) industry categorizations.

Knowledge Worker

Knowledge workers are workers whose main capital is knowledge. … What differentiates knowledge work from other forms of work is its primary task of “non-routine” problem solving that requires a combination of convergent, divergent, and creative thinking.

Knowledge workers are employees who have a deep background in education and experience and are considered people who “think for a living.” They include software developers, doctors, lawyers, inventors, teachers, nurses, financial analysts and architects. As businesses increase their dependence on information technology, the number of fields in which knowledge workers must operate has expanded dramatically.

Even though they sometimes are called “gold collars”, because of their high salaries, as well as because of their relative independence in controlling the process of their own work, current research shows that they are also more prone to burnout, and very close normative control from organizations they work for, unlike regular workers.

www.BRSolutions.com

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What about Meta-Meta-Somethings?

Richard Welke, Professor and Director at Georgia State University, commented[1]: Any process improvement or change process is a metaprocess of the process it’s targeted at. And, of course, it in turn can have a metaprocess (the process for deciding when and how to change the process improvement, or more generally BPM process). Hence it is a meta-meta-process relative to the specific organization process or “routine” being examined/managed. My reply: Yes, which leads to the questions of … Meta-meta-data. A similar argument can be made for “data”. Any data that describes other data is metadata. Metadata, in turn, can have metadata (the data that describes metadata, or more generally a repository model). Hence it is meta-meta-data relative to specific business data being managed. Meta-meta-meta? I don’t think any ‘meta-” above meta-meta-process or meta-meta-data would be meaningful (add value). I could be wrong I suppose. http://www.brsolutions.com/


[1] This series of point/counterpoint replies is a follow-up to my post “Meta Here. Meta There. Meta Everywhere?” (March 31, 2014), which generated a surprising amount of great discussion. (Thanks all!) Refer to: http://www.brsolutions.com/2014/03/31/meta-here-meta-there-meta-everywhere/ The definition I’m using for meta- is from Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary [3b]:

3b: of a higher logical type – in nouns formed from names of disciplines and designating new but related disciplines such as can deal critically with the nature, structure, or behavior of the original ones *metalanguage* *metatheory* *metasystem*

 

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Process Model or Process Instance … Which Do You Mean in ‘Metaprocess’?

Razvan Radulian, business transformation consultant, commented[1]: Is there such a thing as a metaprocess? When we say ‘process(es)’ there actually two things that match the term: (1) process models and (2) process instances. Going back to your definition for metaprocessprocess that transforms other processes – which one(s) are you talking about?  
    • If instances, that’s probably easier to grasp (and, most likely, already taken care of … by some process model).
    • If models, that gets quite more interesting. So, let’s see! Would that a process instance be (of a metaprocess-model) that changes another process model?
My reply: Good points. To answer I need to ask what an instance of a process is. You’re probably referring to a performance or execution of a process. Clearly, “transforming” a (‘live’) performance is an interesting question. There are at least two ways of doing that. The first is a process that coordinates another process in real-time. Think of a conductor’s process to direct a symphony, or a director’s process in the making of a movie. Another way is by real-time evaluation of business rules. That’s how you get truly dynamic, traceable, repeatable ‘performances’. But I was actually talking about process models, not instances (performances). If you change the model of a process, the effect is to change every performance (execution) of that process model thereafter. That’s the how I think most people in business process improvement would think about the matter. But your points are well-taken. First, there are probably two kinds of meta- with respect to processes:
    • Meta-process-performance coordinates other process performances.
    • Meta-process-model transforms other process models.
Second, you can mix the two – e.g., talk about a meta-process-performance transforming other process models. In that case, however, you’re not really talking meta-. The noun subjects are not the same (i.e., performance vs. model). At that point I think you’re just talking about doing actual process improvement work. http://www.brsolutions.com/


[1] This series of point/counterpoint replies is a follow-up to my post “Meta Here. Meta There. Meta Everywhere?” (March 31, 2014), which generated a surprising amount of great discussion. (Thanks all!) Refer to: http://www.brsolutions.com/2014/03/31/meta-here-meta-there-meta-everywhere/ The definition I’m using for meta- is from Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary [3b]:

3b: of a higher logical type – in nouns formed from names of disciplines and designating new but related disciplines such as can deal critically with the nature, structure, or behavior of the original ones *metalanguage* *metatheory* *metasystem*

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Are PDCA & DAMIC MetaProcesses?

The Director of Business Analysis and Process Improvement at a major organization commented[1]: Would you consider PDCA and/or DMAIC to be metaprocesses? My reply: First some background from Wikipedia: PDCA (Plan–Do–Check–Act or Plan–Do–Check–Adjust) is an iterative four-step management method used in business for the control and continuous improvement of processes and products. It is also known as the:
    • Deming circle/cycle/wheel.
    • Shewhart cycle.
    • control circle/cycle, or plan–do–study–act (PDSA).
Another version of this PDCA cycle is OPDCA. The added “O” stands for observation or as some versions say “Grasp the current condition.” This emphasis on observation and current condition has currency with Lean manufacturing / Toyota Production System literature. DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) refers to a data-driven improvement cycle used for improving, optimizing and stabilizing business processes and designs. The DMAIC improvement cycle is the core tool used to drive Six Sigma projects. … All of the DMAIC process steps are required and always proceed in the given order. Here’s how I would answer.
    • The first question is whether they are truly processes. The do have steps, but PDCA at least is described as a method. Are methods and processes the same? I’m a little dubious, but for the sake of argument let’s say they are. (Something is only meta- if it is the same kind of thing as the thing it is applied to.)
    • The second question is whether they have processes as inputs, and processes as outputs. They do seem to do that.
    • The third question is whether they do what all processes do – they (potentially) transform the inputs. They do appear to do that too. (In other words they satisfy the predicate.)
So I would give a tentative yes to whether they are metaprocesses. http://www.brsolutions.com/


[1] This series of point/counterpoint replies is a follow-up to my post “Meta Here. Meta There. Meta Everywhere?” (March 31, 2014), which generated a surprising amount of great discussion. (Thanks all!) Refer to: http://www.brsolutions.com/2014/03/31/meta-here-meta-there-meta-everywhere/ The definition I’m using for meta- is from Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary [3b]:

3b: of a higher logical type – in nouns formed from names of disciplines and designating new but related disciplines such as can deal critically with the nature, structure, or behavior of the original ones *metalanguage* *metatheory* *metasystem*

 

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MetaProcess vs. Universal Process Pattern (UPP)

Brian Leapman, U.K. logistics and supply chain expert, commented[1]: Meta is essentially when you cannot abstract further or divide further. It should be the atomic particle level of abstraction. A metaprocess – the Universal Process Pattern (UPP) – has four potential meta value outputs (whether or not they are modeled):  
    • Accept
    • Reject
    • Counterproposal
    • Ignore
For each of these four meta values, there can be a set/range of values where the outcomes are valid for a specific type of instance. My reply: UPP can be quite useful I think. However, we started from different semantics. You said: “Meta is essentially when you cannot abstract further or divide further. It should be the atomic particle level of abstraction.” I’m using Merriam-Webster Unabridged definition [meta- 3b]:

of a higher logical type — in nouns formed from names of disciplines and designating new but related disciplines such as can deal critically with the nature, structure, or behavior of the original ones *metalanguage* *metatheory* *metasystem*

So by metaprocess I mean process that transforms other processes. Both metaprocess and ‘regular’ processes could be UPP-compliant. I believe the notions are orthogonal. P.S. I have no idea what a meta-value might be. http://www.brsolutions.com/


[1] This series of point/counterpoint replies is a follow-up to my post “Meta Here. Meta There. Meta Everywhere?” (March 31, 2014), which generated a surprising amount of great discussion. (Thanks all!) Refer to: http://www.brsolutions.com/2014/03/31/meta-here-meta-there-meta-everywhere/

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MetaProcess vs. Generalization of Processes

John Bertolet, Global Business Process Management director at Schneider Electric, commented[1]: I have seen the term metaprocess used as the generic name for a high-level process. This usually comes up in the context of trying to name the levels of a process architecture – for example:

1) Highest-level, end-to-end process or “value chain” or assembly of processes 2) Process 3) Sub-process 4) Activity 5) Task

People usually mean the first level above as a metaprocess. But I have not seen any universally accepted standard for this naming convention; so it is whatever you define it to be. My reply: My definition of metaprocess is process that transforms other processes. Your hierarchy represents the decomposing of processes. A process being (passively) decomposed is certainly not the same thing as a process (actively) transforming another process. Based on that difference, no, I would not say a value chain is a metaprocess. Of course, there is (must be) a process for decomposing other processes. But that specific functionality is highly specialized; not all processes do it. In fact most don’t. So decompose is not an appropriate verb for a definition of metaprocess. It’s not intrinsic to what all processes do. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ A Systems Architect commented: Is there such a thing as a metaprocess? Yes. One way to look at the answer is processes for the creation and management of processes. But another way is a generalized process … like a design-level process pattern for a certain class of operable processes … which must go through a process design and implementation for specific situation before it is an operable process. My reply: Design-level process patterns can be highly useful. However, I don’t think they qualify under the useful dictionary definition of meta-. Let’s test the ‘rule for meta’. Inserting a verb phrase I get “design-level process pattern that can be customized to a more specific process”. There are at least two problems with that:
  • The nouns must be the same on either side of the verb phrase. But a “pattern” is not the same as a “process.”
  • A process is fundamentally one that transforms things. But “can be customized to” has no sense of transforming something else.
So no, I don’t think a design-level process pattern should be viewed as a metaprocess in the strict sense of the term. (Thought-provoking though!) ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Filipe Pinto, business process architect, commented: An example of a metaprocess is the epistemic process. My reply: I assume you mean the process through which knowledge is acquired. That’s an interesting one. For the sake of argument I’ll say that doesn’t fit the definition of metaprocess I’m using: process that transforms other processes. Instead, I would argue it’s a case of extreme generalization. Rather than being a process that supports the learning of only one kind of thing, it’s a process that supports the learning of many (all?) kinds of things. Meta- and generalization are not the same. But of course, it all depends on what definition you use – which is the whole point of this discussion. http://www.brsolutions.com/


[1] This series of point/counterpoint replies is a follow-up to my post “Meta Here. Meta There. Meta Everywhere?” (March 31, 2014), which generated a surprising amount of great discussion. (Thanks all!) Refer to: http://www.brsolutions.com/2014/03/31/meta-here-meta-there-meta-everywhere/ The definition I’m using for meta- is from Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary [3b]:

3b: of a higher logical type – in nouns formed from names of disciplines and designating new but related disciplines such as can deal critically with the nature, structure, or behavior of the original ones *metalanguage* *metatheory* *metasystem*

 

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MetaProcess vs. Something More than a Process

Amit Mitra, Senior Manager at TCS America, commented[1]: Is there such a thing as a metaprocess? Yes, there is! I am teaching the metaprocess in a master’s course … as a part of an overall model of knowledge that integrates reasoning, measurement, business rules, and process. Indeed, you can infer the business functionality required of the ideal BPM tool from the properties and parameters of the metaprocess (No current tools support them all, but they do support the most obvious properties). The metaprocess also accounts for progressively unstructured processes, and processes that reason about themselves, to infer how they could adapt to different situations. My reply: Interesting indeed. However, what is your definition of process? I think the key part of what a process is (and isn’t) is that it transforms something (turns raw material into finished goods, inputs into outputs). Business rules never transform anything – that’s a key differentiator from business processes. Reasoning and measurement ‘transform’ something only in a trivial sense. My point is that the thing you’ve created a meta- for isn’t really a process. It’s more comprehensive. It’s more like core business know-how or core business capability. The industry desperately needs a better name for the kind of thing you’re creating … because it’s central to moving toward a knowledge economy (and a more rational, sustainable way of doing business). ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Eric Ducos, CTO of EmeriCon, commented: Is there such a thing as a metaprocess? I would definitely think so. A methodology for identifying, analyzing and building a BPM solution is a metaprocess (i.e. a process to build a process). My reply: I agree except for the word methodology. A methodology is more than a process. It includes rules and guidelines, for example. Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary (MWUD) defines methodology as (1a):

a body of methods, procedures, working concepts, rules, and postulates employed by a science, art, or discipline.

But here’s a thought: There could be such a thing as a meta-methodology … a methodology indicating how to create (other) methodologies. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ John Morris, Director, Solutions Sales at Bosch Software Innovations, commented: In terms of driving work on metaprocesses, I suspect that tort law, regulation and compliance issues might eventually prove to be motivators, more than competition. One might think that having good software would be guaranteed by competition, especially as the information content of most products and services is increasing. The governance challenge, however, is that the semantic content of software is buried by “what you see” – i.e., the surface of the software. All too often that’s where discussion stops. My reply: I couldn’t agree more. That gets you into rules and meta-rules – i.e., into something more than processes. http://www.brsolutions.com/


 [1] This series of point/counterpoint replies is a follow-up to my post “Meta Here. Meta There. Meta Everywhere?” (March 31, 2014), which generated a surprising amount of great discussion. (Thanks all!) Refer to: http://www.brsolutions.com/2014/03/31/meta-here-meta-there-meta-everywhere/ The definition I’m using for meta- is from Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary [3b]:

3b: of a higher logical type – in nouns formed from names of disciplines and designating new but related disciplines such as can deal critically with the nature, structure, or behavior of the original ones *metalanguage* *metatheory* *metasystem*

 

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MetaProcess vs. Enabling Process

A Senior Business Analyst commented[1]: Viewing an organization in terms of the classic pyramid of strategic, tactical and operational levels, it seems to me that each level performs processes that enable other processes at the next level down. You might call these enabling processes, especially those at the strategic level. When executives perform an enabling process in effect they transform other processes lower in the pyramid. I think the enabling processes can therefore be called metaprocesses. My reply: Processes that enable other processes, that build on what they have produced, are of course extremely important. That’s how stuff gets done and value added. But that’s not the same as a metaprocess. An enabling process doesn’t directly ‘operate on’ (transform) another process, nor is a transformed process its output. So I’d have to say an enabling process is not a metaprocess. I also don’t think that in performing an enabling process at the strategic level, executives directly transform processes at the tactical or operational level. (If only they were that hands-on!) Instead, they establish business policies, goals, and objectives that then can be used by other people to transform ‘lower-level’ processes appropriately (and directly). In other words, their outputs are strategy or strategic direction. Those are simply not processes per se … even if probably more important! http://www.brsolutions.com/


[1] This series of point/counterpoint replies is a follow-up to my post “Meta Here. Meta There. Meta Everywhere?” (March 31, 2014), which generated a surprising amount of great discussion. (Thanks all!) Refer to: http://www.brsolutions.com/2014/03/31/meta-here-meta-there-meta-everywhere/ The definition I’m using for meta- is from Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary [3b]:

3b: of a higher logical type – in nouns formed from names of disciplines and designating new but related disciplines such as can deal critically with the nature, structure, or behavior of the original ones *metalanguage* *metatheory* *metasystem*

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What Makes Business Smart?

I am certainly interested in what makes processes smart. But I’m a lot more interested in what makes business smart. My observations:
                                • A process lets you interact with customers, but doesn’t guarantee those interactions are the best possible.
                                • A process crosses silos and boundaries of place and time, but doesn’t ensure you communicate across those silos and boundaries.
                                • A process produces things, but doesn’t ensure you produce the right things.
                                • A process pays the bills, but doesn’t find you new money.
                                • A process lets you play the game, but doesn’t determine whether you will win.
                                • A process lets you act, but doesn’t guarantee you will learn from it.
Here are things I know are directly involved in making your business smart. All of them affect processes, but none of them are processes:
    • Business rules
    • Core business concepts
    • Operational business decisions
    • Strategy
    • Policy monitors (KPIs)
So as you start hearing analysts say that smart processes are the next big thing, take it with a grain of salt. Be very clear about three things:
    1. The target should be smart business – not smart processes per se.
    2. Smart automation won’t go very far unless you specify the right things.
    3. The things you need to specify are knowledge things, not process things.
(I suppose I could add there are no silver bullets, but I’m pretty sure you already know that.)

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