Ethical BPM – Making Exceptions for Exceptional Cases

HelpChildAre standardized processes the secret to a company’s success?
I recently attended BPM2014 – the 12th annual BPM conference in Eindhoven, Netherlands. There, Keith Swenson, in his keynote address, described how many processes require today’s workers to innovate “on the fly” and cannot be preprogrammed with a standard solution or sequence of events. In some cases, “standardization” is the enemy of optimal behavior. I’d like to extend Keith’s ideas into a realm that is not often mentioned in the same sentence as Business Process Management: Ethics.

Ethics? Get real. I’m trying to run a business here!

Hold on! How often have you seen companies or government agencies turn down people in need of extra or special care, simply because their situation does not fit in with the process? “I’m sorry, ma’am, but our system doesn’t allow that?” may have a very familiar ring to it. In cases where processes are rigid, and there is no room for compromise or creativity, it’s hard to make exceptions for exceptional cases. Let’s pretend there’s a process which enables a person to file for citizenship. This process requires applicants to attend a meeting at an interior ministry office. But what if the applicant is too old or infirm to attend such a meeting? Before standardization, an exception might have been made, allowing the procedure to have been done over the phone, or better yet, at the applicant’s residence. But today, as the star of BPM rises, so too does the banner of standardization = success.

But this is not necessarily the case. Often standardization can lead to disgruntled customers, mistreated citizens or worse, real damage to people and belongings. What I propose is new a standard – Ethical BPM. An Ethical BPM process is a process with areas that are open to creative, exceptional solutions. A process that allows the process operator to choose to go a different route, or even create his/her own route on the fly, in order to better serve the customer or the public. This type of “exception-making” is not frowned upon in Ethical BPM – it’s rewarded. Operators who find new ways to help people are recognized for their efforts, perhaps even on a social feed. “Well done to Evan Daniels for finding a way to enable a wheelchair-bound applicant to attend the community hike.” “Kudos to Jacklyn Glickman for organizing home delivery for a cellphone customer who is to old to leave home during winter months.”

Exception23And what about the details of Ethical BPM implementation? This is wide open. It could simply mean adding to the existing end-user options an “Other” option, one which does not fit pre-proscribed cases, with open fields allowing the end user to fill in the blanks. Or it could even mean adding an “Exception” activity or sub processes, which guides an employee through navigating an exception or creating a unique solution to a problem. Certainly having the ability to dynamically reassign tasks will help facilitate the handling of such exceptions, as will other Adaptive/Dynamic/Case Management functionality. PNMsoft’s own HotChange® technology is espeically suited for enabling such dynamic process change, putting more power and agility in the hands of process participants. Tune in to our Oct. 1 webinar on Change-enabling BPM.

OK, but what about the bottom line?

Ethical BPM may sound unproductive or inefficient, and it’s true that a balance must be struck. If exceptions are made in every case it will be hard for an organization to stay profitable. On the other hand, if a company is unable to make exceptions, it may be equally hard. Each scenario must be weighed beforehand to define the limits of the ethical behavior. Who has the right to make an exception, for whom, how many exceptions can be made, and at what cost? (these limits can even be built into the process to ensure you don’t exceed your budget). But at the end of the day, an ethical company that treats its people, customers and public, not as objects, but as human beings, will ultimately fare better. People appreciate being treated as human beings. If they feel that they are objects, they will take their business elsewhere. That is a lesson BPM must learn, if it is to become the gold standard of service going into the future.

Eli pic9Eli Stutz is Head of Knowledge and Collaboration for PNMsoft, the authors and publishers of Cora SeQuence – a Gartner Magic-Quadrant (MQ) rated Intelligent Business Process Management Suite (iBPMS). Eli Stutz conducts live monthly webinars on BPM and workflow topics, and authors case studies and white papers.

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