Make no mistake, the future lies with automation of white-collar work. Fewer and fewer business problems these days focus on manufacturing and production processes, i.e., the nothing-but-widgets category. For all the non-widget-centric business activity in the world – which includes just about all every conceivable form of white-collar work – the following needs become paramount.
Ensuring the quality of meta-data.
Demonstrating compliance based actual rules, rather than the artifacts and effects that IT systems produce.
Retaining, teaching and repurposing intellectual capital.
What would I do to correct the shortcomings of BPM for non-widget-centric business activity? Our answer is to become more why-centric, as opposed to narrowly how-centric. You should focus on business capabilities, not just business processes. That shift has several essential features:
Understanding business strategy as something distinct from business processes (and BPM). Business goals and business risks should be drivers of business process design – not the other way around. You need to be strategy-driven, not simply process-driven.
Designing core metrics around business goals and business risks – the things that concern C-suite executives the most.
Realizing that for white-collar work the 3-D world of widgets has vanished, and that tolerances and quality can be expressed only in terms of business rules.
Treating business rules as a first-class citizen, externalized from process models.
Identifying operational business decisions (based on encoded business rules) as a crucial focal point in re-engineering business processes.
Including a Why Button as part of every business solution. Pressing the Why Button leads immediately to the business rules that produced the results you see from any process.
Everyone wants high quality from their business processes. But what exactly does quality mean these days? Let me tell you a quick story that recently got me thinking.
I like to eat toasted raisin bread in the morning. I even have a favorite brand. Every morning when I’m at home I eat several pieces. Over the years I’ve become so experienced with the brand’s quality that I can spot defects. I know when they’ve laid on the cinnamon a little too heavily, or when the dough didn’t rise quite enough. Every morning I look forward to doing my little AM taste test.
But one morning recently I suddenly realized the large majority of client processes we’ve worked with over the last decade are not ones I can perform any taste test for. There’s nothing physical from the process I can taste or hear or touch. There’s nothing whatsoever to directly assess quality by.
That’s because some clients simply have no physical products at all – e.g., insurance, finance, taxation, etc. But a good number do – e.g., electrical equipment, trucking, railroads, and so on. For these latter clients the processes of immediate concern didn’t directly involve those physical things however – only just white-collar stuff.
So the question becomes how do you assess quality from a business process when there’s no physical product? How do you identify defects when there isn’t any physical result?
My conclusion:When there isn’t any physical product from a business process,quality and defects are purely a matter of business rules.
If you’re not documenting and managing business rules as part of your BPM or quality management approach (or elsewhere) you’re missing a crucial part of the picture.
Amit Mitra, Senior Manager at TCS America, commented: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.
 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*
A restaurant sometimes allows members of a party to split the bill for a meal so each person can pay just part.
Business Rule: The amount paid for a meal may be split among the members of the party served the meal only if all the following are true:
Each member initials his or her portion of the amount paid on the bill for the meal.
Each member provides the room number in which he or she is currently registered in the hotel
Does the restaurant have some business process for collecting payment? Of course. The bill for meals usually does get paid (usually involving a transform of my personal financial resources!). But that’s not the right question.
The real question is whether the business process is simply ad hoc, or modeled and prescribed (or somewhere in between). No matter, the business rule always applies. That’s important because there will always be at least some ad hoc business activity – and perhaps quite a lot.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~This post excerpted from our new book (Oct, 2011) Building Business Solutions: Business Analysis with Business Rules. See: http://www.brsolutions.com/b_building_business_solutions.php
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