Structured processes are easy to model in business process management. One activity leads to another in a predictable way. But what about unpredictable, unstructured processes? Organizations frequently face these kinds of issues, and often do not pursue business process management as a viable solution for their business needs because of concerns about the cost of process discovery and confusion about the order that activities occur in each process instance.
In my blog post entitled, Modeling the out-of-the ordinary in a business process, I discuss how out-of-the-ordinary processes (known as ad hoc) can be measured using the ad hoc spectrum. We can use events to help identify when ad hoc activities occur and to better understand how we can incorporate them into more structured processes.
The morning routine
Let's use an example of an ad hoc process – the morning routine. In the morning, a person performs certain regular tasks but, perhaps, not in the same order every day. In addition, one person’s morning routine is likely different from that of another person’s morning routine, even though many of the steps are the same. Truly the morning routine is an ad hoc process; it's unpredictable and unstructured.
But by observing the occurrence or absence of certain activities, we can start to better understand the morning routine process. Let's start by identifying the possible steps that might or might not happen for a given person on a given day:
- Brush their teeth.
- Go for a jog.
- Eat breakfast.
- Get dressed.
- Take a shower.
- Check email.
We'll observe the behavior of three separate people. Here are the results from a given day:
Even from this basic set of information, we can make the following observations:
- All three individuals followed a different sequence of events.
- The complete set of steps is not always followed, such as Person 2 skipped their morning jog that day.
- Patterns start to emerge, such as getting dressed always follows taking a shower. Although, clearly the more data you have, the more confidently you can make that statement.
Let's observe an additional factor – the element of time. Knowing exactly when things happen, in addition to the order, is a key piece to this approach. Here's the morning routine with start times.
We can now make some additional observations:
- Person 2 completes the routine much faster than the others people.
- You can start to see how long each step is takes and can possibly start to understand and improve on some of the times. For example, it seems that Person 3 takes much longer to shower than the others people.
- You can also start to understand the nature of the process for each individual. For Person 2, you can assume that eating breakfast and checking email happen in parallel rather than sequentially.
Just from making these basic observations, we can start to create a more structured business process to model the morning routine by incorporating rules and sequencing. You can gain visibility and efficiency simply by observing what is already taking place. Then, you can possibly react to certain instances where the time between steps is longer than normal. In addition, this reaction can be done without changing the way the current process is running.
Embracing ad hoc activities into business process management
There is a need for multiple entry points in the adoption of business process management. One traditional approach is to document and discover the process prior to attempting anything that touches the existing, running environment. However, many cases can benefit from detecting the events first and then using those events for visibility, discovery, and enforcement. This ability to incrementally grow the application and to incrementally learn about the process as well is a key aspect of ad hoc business process management.
For more information about incorporating ad hoc processing into business process management, see the IBM Redpaper publication entitled, Empowering your Ad Hoc Business with IBM Business Process Manager.
Martin Keen is an IBM Redbooks Project Leader. He works with technical experts to create books, guides, blogs, and videos. Follow @MartinRTP on Twitter. Do you have comments on this blog? Leave us comments below and we will respond as quickly as possible.