Process-free Process Management in PLM

In one of my previous posts, I discussed the topic “Should PLM develop its own process tools? “. In this post, I discussed the various PLM approaches related to process technologies. Two main options I had in my mind at that time was to reuse existing process tools/platforms or to develop yourour own PLM tools. Each approach has benefits and disadvantages.

Today, I’d like to talk about something I term “unstructured process management”. In my view, people in general have the tendency to like processes. They see processes as self-organizing tools. Especially when it comes to business and organizational usage, there is a strong belief that process implementation can solve most of your problems. Is this really true? Yes, probably. But, in my view there is a“catch22” situation with process implementation nowadays. To prepare an implementation processes takes time. As our life becomes more and more dynamic, people and businesses need to react to what is going on outside and inside of an organization.

So, how we can identify a problem? I see many PLM processes that belong to the area of knowledge workers and represent tasks and tacit activities among people, along with, sometimes, an unpredictable slew of events. In addition, a workload can change its priority in an organization and shift people to work from one area to another. Such situations are normally killers for the traditional approach in process management. In many cases, this requires the involvement of administrators on different levels to resolve conflicts or move tasks/processes forward.

So, what can be potential solutions for this problem? There are two approaches that in my view can be beneficial for such case:

1. Focus on People Tasks

First of all, we need to have a system that allows people to manage their tasks, but have a process management base. People need to be less involved in the “process view” and more involved in “task” oriented work. This is also a simple experience to build an easy to understand view on what is going on. People need to have the ability to delegate tasks as a natural part of their process. The last one is very important. 

2. Visualization

Don’t invent a special User Interface for a process. This is yet another UI people need to learn. It’s better to integrate these process/task-oriented tools in their natural environment. Or you can come with up with Mashup ideas on how to do this.

3. Process Rule Management

This means being able to define rules as a natural foundation for processes. Process flows need to be controlled by rules. In most of today’s process management infrastructure, this is not a problem. But we need to generalize it to the level of providing full rule-based controls on processes.

I’m sure you have ideas and issues to cover for such a vast topic. I’ll wait for your comments and thoughts.

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  • We obviously have different experiences. In most companies I consult with the words process are on a par with “I’m from corporate and I’m here to help you”. Most people seem to agree that process is o.k. for the next person. The odd thing is its remarkable how many people actually use processes, though they don’t think of it as such.

    Example: Who hasn’t followed the directions on the back of a Mac & Cheese box or the like? Well that’s different one would say, How about the laundry detergent, or break-in instructions for that new car?

    Processes have been developed to save time, reduce errors and improve how things work. When these provide the optimum result we call them best practices.

    Some are complicated enough or used infrequently we document these, other we don’t. In the case of PLM like other aspects of an engineering discipline it’s a case of how much documented process vs. how little. Another consultant trying to make process palatable to everyone coined the term just enough process. While it was a marketing spin, I find validity in such a goal.

    Inferring we don’t need process and then suggesting rules take their place? Rules are in my opinion are one form of process, like attributes are a portion of data models. A rule provides direction over action or activities which is what processes are designed to do. If you’re going to have rules you’re creating processes. Somewhere you’re asking someone to make a decision based upon previous experience, planning or forethought.

  • Brian, Good points and thoughts as well as marketing spin :). What I had in my mind writing this post is “it is easy to create something complex; it takes genius to create something simple that is usable”. So, my point is we have lots of complex processes and process management systems. The question how to make it now looks natural and usable. -I hope it makes sense. Oleg.

  • oleg,

    I agree entirely with your perspective on process and like brian’s comment as well. the keys to good process are in my opinion making it:

    * transparent and easy for the people moving thru the process
    * task-based (as you say) with overall process visibility, if desired
    * main flow with the ability to easily manage exceptions / special cases
    * non-intrusive rules that do not get in the way, but facilitate progress w/o the user knowing it
    * finally, familiar to the user

    in a corporate environment this last point is most commonly email. we (at aras) found that people simply want an email notification when they have to do something w/ a summary of the item. then, they can see additional info like the form, attachments, etc as needed and take action.

    at any point they can see the overall process, but are not forced into working from a process view – rather everything is task-based for end users (unless they toggle).

    it’s amazing to me that this is such a revelation in the plm world, but it seems to be. we see companies that have vaulting w/ another system use the aras workflow for change mgt, quoting, quality, and other processes because its intuitive for end users and scalable for IT (also no user licenses because open source so you can have unlimited users w/o $$$$$$).

    just my 2 cents, seems like you are onto something with this topic. we can all use more process as long as it doesn’t mean the process becomes impossible 🙂

    take care,

    MarcL
    http://www.aras.com

  • realize that a picture (or video) is worth a thousand words… so, here’s a good customer case study video demo if you’d like to see the aras workflow process described in action

    http://www.aras.com/Recordings/StructuralDemo.wmv

  • Marc, thanks for comment and video! Especially I agree with transparency of processes and intuitive user experience. This is good articulation of how to visualize tasks for users. Everybody accept mail paradigm, since this is looks easy and fit the same channel every person use to get messages. People like to have single IN channel. This is simplify digital life. It’s not surprise people can accept process tool from PLM vendors, similar tool from BPM or big IT (i.e. IBM, MS) will be probably more expensive and contain less ready to use features. -Regards,Oleg.

  • Oleg,
    Regarding simplification. Here we are in TOTAL agreement. Having spent most of my career reengineering processes from shop floor to design to business strategy and marketing for many of the major names, the one thing I spend most of my time doing in either redesign or design of processes is keeping all the clutter away. One of the major engagements I did took a process of 500+ steps down to just under 60. All during the time I was being asked to just hurry it up and get it out there or just move the boxes around the diagram and call it good.

    When I finished i had removed lots of redundant non-value add work, added some management controls and reduced the cycle time from 2.5 years to 6 months. The point being simplicity takes time and effort to accomplish. Its basically fighting the organizational equivalent of entropy.

  • Brian, Thanks for sharing your experience on this. I’m sure there are lots of such examples. -Oleg.

  • Oleg,

    Engaging post; enjoyed reading it.

    Simplicity does take work. I had a simpler post of my own on the topic, at http://jtpedersen.net/2009/05/01/simplicity/. In this case, I had come to own an organization largely without structured processes, certainly nothing automated, with committed team members that were simply swamped with urgent issues.

    The key is, indeed, to focus on the ‘human’ part of the equation. It’s easy to get caught up in the process, automation, and technical components…forgetting that real people need to use these tools.

    All too often, organizations are simply adrift, rudderless, and need to have their human processes addressed–in even a minimalist fashion–before sophistication like PLM can be contemplated.

    Pleased to have discovered your site (courtesy Brad Holtz).

    JT…

  • JT, thanks for your comment and welcome to our discussion! We are in the full agreement about real people needs on one side and processes and technological stacks on the other side. That’s why mail and twitter will keep going in my view… -Best. Oleg/

  • Alec Gil

    Aah, the topic that is near and dear to my heart. I very much agree with the basic premise that the workflow engines, particularly the ones aimed at supporting PLM work, only work in the scenarios that describe deterministic series of steps, something that, in product design, is relatively rare. While the tasks perfomed by the individuals in particular roles may, in fact, be repetitive, their sequence, timing, and relationship to the upstream and downstream events vary greatly from one instance of a “process” to another.

    Instead of following processes, end users should have visibility to their respective lists of tasks that are filtered based on a variety of factors including their roles and the tasks states. I agree that the context of a process should be captured by the “invisible” business rules that allow or disallow process participants to complete their tasks or advance maturity states of the related data such as CAD documents or BOM elements. Although I’m familiar with some custom implementations of such environments, it would be helpful to see the underlying technology supplied by the PLM providers.

  • Alec, thanks for your view. The ability to disconnect user-view from process-view is critical to improve process user experience and this is something that heavy underestimated in most of today’s implementations. -Oleg

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