Posted by: Adam Deane | 01/02/2012

BPM: Priorities

BPM PriorityIt was one of those weeks.

You know.. the kind where everything needs to be completed, but nothing gets done.

I had given myself two tasks. Simple tasks really.
Answering a RFI and building a mockup demo.

And here I was trying to be efficient, and getting nothing done.
I couldn’t complete any of the tasks from start to end. Always missing some bit of information that prevented me from completing it properly. A common scenario.
By trying to be efficient and not waste time, I was constantly swapping priorities.

BPM systems manage task priorities. At least to some degree.
Some by due date, some have additional parameters like priority, value, cost…
Some enable task ordering and user interaction.

But corporate life is a bit more complex than that.
You never know exactly what sudden event will cause which processes to be late, which one of the late process instances will cause a customer to hit the roof, which of the angry customers to deal with first…

BPM systems are not fully programmed to deal with queue jumpers:
Software isn’t able to understand human nature like “He who yells loudest – gets more attention” or “Don’t annoy the boss”
BPM systems are not programmed to deal with PR disasters (Cruise ship navigation change would have been approved, legislative SOPA process would have been approved)

Priorities don’t appear in BPMN, and are hardly ever defined in a process design.
Most Case Management systems have a higher usage of priorities, and require more flexibility to allocate and change priorities.
There is not much demand for complex priority mechanisms in BPM implementations. BPM has not yet adopted impact analysis

So what happened to the two tasks I was working on?
In the end I made a management decision… and went to have a cup of coffee.
Amazing how a coffee break clears your mind.
In the end I decided to put the demo on the backburner (not good, but under the circumstances it was the best choice).
The RFI took me twice as long as expected, and I worked late into the night, but at least that task is off my table.
Don’t worry about me… As long as the coffee machine is working, I’m alright.


  1. This is our modern life, especially in the software business. I can’t tell you how often this is my story, too. The one thing I didn’t see in your piece was the stress that comes from knowing you have looming deadlines and knowing that progress is stalled as the deadline approaches. Maybe you’re better at managing the stress than most. For me, that’s the ‘deer in the headlights’ moment where my thinking is clouded by stress and I need to push through the distractions to gain a sense of accomplishment.

    Very true on the demand for complex priority mechanisms. That will change as the marketplace matures. In the meantime, we can develop a box for ‘sit and stress out’…

  2. Adam – you have articulated the value of poor little mis-understood Social BPM. Not the limited “collaborative process design” definition promulgated by most analysts and vendors, but the larger, higher-value definition of “social interaction in the context of running processes.” This is how BPM is evolving to handle “queue jumpers” and the flood of events that happen outside the narrow structures of defined business processes. It does smack of case management – whether “adaptive” or “dynamic,” depending on which analyst firm you subscribe to – in its marriage of structured and unstructured inputs. But it goes further in creating a system that mimics (fairly well today, and undoubtedly better tomorrow) the chaotic realities of how work actually gets done. This is a work in progress. In many cases, Social BPM is sizzle without steak today, but as the “design-time only” mind-set evolves to understand how to make Social work in process execution mode, we’re going to see a lot more real meat.

  3. There are mechanisms I guess, can be integrated with these technology solutions, GTD is what I believe in. You are right, the technology can not understand the human nature but do we want them to? I think these systems are meant to be manage only what you said “…Always missing some bit of information that prevented me from completing it properly…” rest anyways the management decisions are to be taken by the stakeholder(s) and these management decisions includes the priority, of course there could be some agreements/sign-offs while freezing on those priorities.

  4. Adam, a great description of a normal work day… and not just for a BPM professional like you. it is the same for any professional – aka knowledge worker!

    Your post as well as the comments make a perfect case why ACM coves the majority of work activities in a large business. BPM flow-diagrams are just for some high-volume, low value processes because the value is in the skill of the professional.

    Yes, we can wait until current BPM systems mature to include all the features that ACM solutions already have today including collaboration, task priorities, social interactions, goal-orientation (impact analysis), allowing all levels of management and process owners to interact with the processes concurrently.

    And no, software must not ‘understand’ human nature, but most certainly it should not ignore or restrict it but much rather empower it.

    PS: Funny that the coffee-cooking is a popular sample for explaining BPM. I hope that your coffee machine is not managed by BPM …

  5. […] enjoyed Adam Deane’s recent post on “BPM: Priorities.” He points out how limited typical BPM systems are in dealing with […]

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