The death of business process as we know it

I was reading a post from @SteveBoese entitled “People, Process, and Productivity Killers” and it reminded me of a preambulation I had some time ago on the subject of decision making in the context of a social business and its role on current business processes.

As Steve discussed in his article (and as was referenced in the Fast Company article he mentions, “5 ways process is killing productivity”) current business process tend to be very rigid and sub-optimal for highly innovative fast pacing companies. Social is frequently positioned as a vehicle through which greater flexibility can be introduced into the system by allowing ad-hoc processes to be collaboratively developed, ie. Collaborative Decision Making. However, social and collaboration is not a magic pill that can single-handedly cure corporate sluggishness.

The trick with Collaborative Decision Making is to put in place a system that can combine the the discipline, governance, and structure of traditional decision making with the agility, flexibility, and broad engagement of social. What companies ultimately need is a framework that can put some structure around the social processes to support & track discussion, debate, decision analysis, and (critically) provenance & governance.

There can be no doubt that much as the waterfall method of software development has well and truly died a painful death, so is the waterfall method of decision making going to die. The choice is whether its death is proactively instigated by the business or is forced upon the business by external market pressures.

9 Responses to “The death of business process as we know it”

  1. This is spot on.. when we look at what it takes to have ‘process excellence’ today vs 3-5 years ago its taking advantage of breakthroughs in business process management, analytics and social to form the ‘system that can combine the the discipline, governance, and structure of traditional decision making with the agility, flexibility, and broad engagement of social.’ My team is developing a ‘toolkit’ that brings these disciplines together.. but still a lot of work to do to make it consumable.


  2. I am so glad you are talking about governance and structure of decision making. Few months ago I showed some research about types of governance mechanisms based on how the social network is structured and what business objective is it tasked to achieve. Most of my audience scratched their heads. One of the questioned asked was what does governance has to do with tweets and Facebook updates. Most of them just thought that if we combine current system with social process rest will somehow fall in place. There is total lack of ability to distinguish between the micro and the macro activities leave alone fathoming the impact of these activities.


  3. Not to be wantonly disagreeable Marie (and Nitin), weren’t these the very same arguments we heard when ERP was in its heydey ? I’m not sure that it actually accomplished that much process optimization or engineering.

    I think “we engineers” approach these very human-intensive activities with fairly simplistic approaches of what it is that needs to be performed. Though, to be fair, the level of possible automation has gone up dramatically since the 1990s. The difficulty of either extracting the process knowledge from the persons involved, or actually getting them to “see” (if there is a way to show them) why it is in their benefit to do this is underestimated, in my opinion.

    I’d really like to hear your views on what you think will be possible as outcomes of the death of processes. And what you think the horizons will be. What would you say are the exemplars of the *spaces* we should watch to see the impact ?


    • I’m not claiming that social can solve the process quagmire, but I do believe that many processes are engineered based on what they believe people SHOULD do vs. what they ACTUALLY do. I’m separating processes that are defined by law (where there are limited to no options to modify or trim them) from those that are defined by the bright sparks that believe this is the way the business should run.

      And I’m being a wee bit argumentative here as (yes, you guessed right) I’m not a big fan of process-heavy activities, preferring the lighter touch.


  4. I like your inclusion of collaborative decision making as an alternative to formalized processes. For more thinking along these lines see my blog post “Defining and Measuring Enterprise Collaboration” ( Even if you do put in place an architecture that supports ad-hoc collaboration, you still need to figure out how to implement governance procedures that can readily span traditionally distinct departments and organizational units.



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