Does this look like your typical day as a local, state, or Federal worker?
- 31% of your work day 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 constantly varying situations that we package into cases. In general, we may deal with specific subject areas and perform repeatable functions but the actual execution of this work will differ greatly from case to case. For example, when I was a paralegal/investigator for a public defender’s office, I helped on 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 of the case 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 really didn’t know what was going to happen from day to day so it was difficult to determine routines beforehand.
This is why I don’t believe that the best way to improve government work is to start imposing Six Sigma and Lean processes onto government employees. Six Sigma and Lean are great methods if you are talking about repeatable processes 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.
On the other hand, traditional case management as practiced by many government workers has many problems. Most government offices have overwhelming case loads, there are conflicting rules and procedures imposed by the 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 great variation in knowledge work but makes that knowledge work more efficient and effective. I believe that 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).
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. This means that ACM is designed to deal with change and ad-hoc processes as a case is being processed. Second, processes are not formalized and designed up front but are developed as the knowledge worker continues to see the same issue in a number of 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 that is built collaboratively in the organization.
This is why 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 and then the knowledge workers were expected to follow the newly-established processes until the weight of exceptions demonstrated that the new processes needed to be modified. Under SBPM, process discovery and modeling occurs as knowledge workers work on cases and share their experiences with each other. Thus, there is a great deal of variation at first in handling cases but as the knowledge workers gain more experience, they collaboratively develop best practices that can easily be modified when exceptions occur.
I have just given the briefest overview of these two new management concepts but I am greatly 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.
(Disclaimer: All opinions in this posting are my personal thoughts and do not reflect upon my employers or any organizations I belong to.)
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) (2011). 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.
Law and Order: How Adaptive Case Management Serves the Public Good – http://community.global360.com/bpm_practitioner/b/weblog/archive/2011/08/11/law-and-order-how-adaptive-case-management-serves-the-public-good.aspx
Simplify Your Work Life: Adaptive Case Management – http://i-sight.com/tech/adaptive-case-management/
The Future of Adaptive Case Management – http://www.industryweek.com/articles/the_future_of_adaptive_case_management_22981.aspx
What is Adaptive Case Management? – http://www.cmswire.com/cms/enterprise-cms/what-is-adaptive-case-management-008277.php
Adaptive case management: New tools for doing more of what we do best – http://www.kmworld.com/Articles/Editorial/Feature/Adaptive-case-management-New-tools-for-doing-more-of-what-we-do-best-74486.aspx
What Could Cause Adaptive Case Management to Fail in 2011 – http://blog.actionbase.com/what-could-cause-adaptive-case-management-to-fail-in-2011