Category Archives: Adaptive Case Management

Business Process Management as If People Mattered: Adaptive Case Management

Does this look like your typical day as a local, state, or federal worker?

  • 31% of your workday is made up of purely ad-hoc, never happens the same way twice tasks
  • 30% of your work revolves around consistent, defined goals but various ways to achieve those goals
  • 20% of your work involves documented and managed tasks that are not automated
  • 17% of your work is automated, but there are numerous exceptions to the automated processes
  • 9% of your work is fully automated, and there are no ways to change the process (Fischer, 2011, p. 84)

Except for a very few exceptions, every government worker is a knowledge worker because they deal with continuously varying situations that we package into cases. We may deal with specific subject areas and perform repeatable functions, but the actual execution of this work will differ significantly from case to case. For example, when I was a paralegal/investigator for a public defender’s office, I helped with numerous assault cases. We had a specific process for interviewing the client, preparing the pleadings, assembling the evidence, and presenting the case. But the facts were always different.

One case was about an assault by a drunken student on an equally drunk off-duty policeman. Another case was a domestic violence issue, while a third involved a store employee who tackled a complaining customer. For each case, the kind of pleadings filed, how I conducted the investigation, and so on would differ based on the specific events in that case. You didn’t know what would happen from day to day, so it was challenging to determine routines beforehand.

These experiences have convinced me that the best way to improve government work is not by imposing Six Sigma and Lean processes onto government employees. Six Sigma and Lean are great methods if you are talking about repeatable procedures that have clear paths and outcomes. But as the above statistics demonstrate, less than 10% of a knowledge worker’s day will benefit from traditional business process management techniques.

But traditional case management, as practiced by many government workers, has many problems. Most government offices have overwhelming caseloads. There are conflicting rules and procedures imposed by top management. And, the current support systems cannot easily handle the many exceptions that occur frequently (Swenson, 2010, pp. 10-24). What is needed is a way that allows for the considerable variation in knowledge work but makes that knowledge work more efficient and effective. The newly emerging management concept of Adaptive Case Management (ACM) is the answer along with its closely allied discipline of Social Business Process Management (SBPM) (Fischer, 2011).

Office worker filling out a paper form.

ACM is still evolving, but there are several core elements. First, instead of being based on the principles of scientific management/Taylorism, it revolves around modern knowledge work. ACM deals with change and ad-hoc processes. Second, processes are not formalized, and created upfront but are developed as the knowledge worker continues to see the same issue in several cases. Third, rules and regulations operate more like guardrails that constrain the actions taken in a case. The fourth element is that the knowledge workers rely heavily on a community-built template library and body of knowledge.

ACM relies so heavily on social networking in the form of SBPM. In traditional business process modeling, discovering what processes exist and modeling these processes were done first. Then the knowledge workers were expected to follow the newly established procedures until the weight of exceptions demonstrated that the new processes needed to be modified. Under SBPM, process discovery and modeling occur as knowledge workers work on cases and share their experiences. Thus, there is a great deal of variation at first in handling cases. As knowledge workers gain more experience, they collaboratively develop best practices that can easily be modified when exceptions occur.

I have just briefly summarized these two new management concepts, but I am much excited by the potential to reform government work for the better. There are numerous case studies in Taming the Unpredictable including how one local government agency used ACM for better customer service in its case management processes. Much of ACM and SBPM makes intuitive sense and should be especially attractive to those who argue we need more knowledge sharing and collaboration in our offices.

References:

Fischer, L. (editor) (2011). Taming the unpredictable: Real-world adaptive case management: Case studies and practical guidance. Lighthouse Point, FL: Future Strategies, Inc.

Fischer, L. (editor) (2011a). Social BPM: Work, planning, and collaboration under the impact of social technology. Lighthouse Point, FL: Future Strategies, Inc.

Swenson, K. D. (editor) (2010). Mastering the unpredictable: How adaptive case management will revolutionize the way that knowledge workers get things done. Tampa, FL: Meghan-Kiffer Press.

Minimal Viable Bureaucracy

I recently attended a conference where one speaker had a great phrase – “minimal viable bureaucracy” (MVB). Being in government for nearly twenty years, I love the idea of no more bureaucratic process than is necessary to achieve an objective. MVB reminds me of adaptive case management (ACM), which I have used in several agencies to build processes.

The idea behind ACM is to create a simple process and then evolve the process when encountering new cases. Instead of building a process designed to handle all eventualities (which never works), the process grows to handle exceptions and incorporates what is learned into building out the process. Learning is built into the system.

MVB is the approach I take to project management. I have seen too many project managers spend more time managing the project process, rather delivering on the project product. I remember working with one person who continually fiddled around with his Microsoft Project spreadsheets as if that would solve the project issue. I had him abandon his spreadsheets and focus on the project team and customers in front of him.

We redesigned his project management process to be simpler and focused. Thankfully, we were on time and successfully delivered the project product without too much schedule delay and disruption to the customer. This incident and others taught me the wisdom of keeping it simple and focusing on outcomes.

The trick is that once you start with a simple process and grow it in complexity, how do you keep the process from becoming burdened with no-longer-needed routines? How does the process grow and shrink as needed? Something that I plan to explore in future postings.