How Adaptive Case Management can be deceiving

One year ago,  the first edition of BPM Conference Portugal was up and running. Today we are now one month of the completion of the second edition. I was remembering and revisiting some of the key facts of the conference and if something dramatically changed since 2013. Cybernetics and Adaptation were two key themes them.

Last year during a side discussion, there were some arguments against and supportive of the motion about Adaptive Case Management and how knowledge workers would made the difference is achieving goals and competitive advantage, more based on guidelines rather prescriptive way of working. In fact in theory, I agree with the approach if the nature of operations are dynamic, rather than highly structured (as pointed before in earlier blog posts). At that time, the supporters against the motion argued that human nature can disrupt the guidelines (because they tend to think by themselves) and instead of knowledge workers companies, would have a company of heroes.

In the beginning of this year, Patrick Lujan after reading BPM a year in Review 2013 interacted in Twitter arguing with the very same argument, that if you have the bad knowledge workers (and most of them are really bad), decentralized, goal orientated management, smart advanced technology will not make any difference.


Knowledge Workers tweeter stream with Patrick Lujan

Knowledge Workers tweeter stream with Patrick Lujan


During my today’s reflection, I remembered a part of Beer’s book The Heart of The Enterprise about the loss of human autonomy and how it hurts organizations. Beer wrote brilliantly, about interviewing fictional managers that wanted to change management style (towards Adaptive Case Management orientation):


We hope that we are a modern and progressive management team. We have put ourselves through business schools. We have studied, and tried to understand, behavioral theories of management. We had much discussion of Theory X and Theory Y, and we have used consultants in personality testing, managerial grids, ans so on.

As a result, we have abandoned autocratic methods. We have made it clear that we expect our operational elements to work autonomously. We just hope that they can do it … However, we have embarked on a very elaborate management developed program for our people, and spent a lot on sophisticated recruitment techniques, so we have some confidence that will be well.

As far as we board members are concerned, however, and to be perfectly blunt,  there is something of an “identity crisis”. What we are ourselves supposed to do? If we are were to give rulings about things, that would be autocratic. So we have reduced ourselves to the role of advisors – benevolent, avuncular holders-of-hands.

That would be all right if anyone took the advice. They don’t seem to do that. They ask: is that an instruction? We say: no, of course not. So they promptly do something different.



4 thoughts on “How Adaptive Case Management can be deceiving

  1. Alberto, interesting post. It misses the key element of successful ACM, which is GOAL ORIENTATION. You make the same mistake as so many who believe that motivational management and ACM represent chaos. Nothing could be more wrong. The teams of knowledge workers do have managers who have to achieve both customer goals and operational targets. They cannot do what they want, but they are given the authority and autonomy to perform goal achievement according to their best knowledge.

    If the naughty, naughty knowledge workers perform differently than expected but still achieve the goals set for them by management then it really does not matter. It would be the process owner who has to make it clear to the KW that they have to achieve those goals. Where necessary boundary rules can be used to avoid unwanted activities. What you describe is not a problem of ACM but a problem of poor management. No software can solve this. What the software can provide is top-down transparency to make the goals, outcomes and handovers clear to the KW. It also provides bottom-up transparency because each and every goal achieving work unit can be monitored and improvement be discussed.

    There are three things needed to manage: authority, goals and means.
    There are three things that are important to employees: security, autonomy and recognition.

    No study ever said that workers are the most happy when they are not told what their responsibility is.

    Exactly the opposite! ACM just helps to make this transparent.

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    • Max, it’s curious the pointer you left here from Keith goes in a different direction from those that were published very recently about how Mercedes is replacing humans or other even more disturbing about a robot acting as a call center operator (

      I would say that Keith’s post source and the other about Mercedes that unfortunately I cannot trace the source (but I remember it was propelled by Andrew McAfee about his latest book are about competing consulting companies that are trying surf on their own agenda.

      Putting the above side comment aside, and as someone that lived the experience about Japanese culture and the fact Keith’s post it’s about Toyota, it’s no surprise for me that they are going in the opposite direction of fast forwarding automation to the knowledge zone.

      IBM is also trying to enter into medicine, helping doctors to make better decisions about diagnosis and treatments . Probably they will get there, but as I expressed in an earlier post THE IMPORTANCE OF GOD ON COMPLEXITY ( ) and an interaction I had with a customer that provides solutions to the clinics that with the current state of the art, only young doctors are keen to explore IBM possibilities. The experienced don’t.

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