Tuesday, 3 September 2013


The BPM conference series just had its 10th 11th (thanks @profBPM) edition in Beijing and it was great to be part of it. The conference is the best place to see the most relevant work in BPM research. So I consider it a great honor to be invited to present the keynote of the last day.

I took the opportunity to share my ideas about BPM in the cloud. The cloud drives a transformation in our sector. The impact on BPM is not so much about the technical underpinnings of elasticity, scale and multi tenancy. But much bigger is the push towards simplicity. In cloud economics, solutions that can bring their value in a simpler way have a significant adoption advantage. The other change driving BPM forward is the addition of ad hoc collaboration. We’re heading to a seamless combination of flexible ad hoc work and repetitive processes.

Researchers might be tempted to specialize and work in more complex directions. But to my surprise, my message of simplicity was actually well received. One of the main research themes is process mining. I saw some very nice ideas about how process mining can bridge the gap between ad hoc work and repetitive processes.

The networking was great and it happened in a magnificent scenery. I even had the chance to do some sightseeing at the forbidden city and discover the chinese lightweight approach to toilets :-)

Monday, 2 September 2013

Creating An Enterprise Community

Earlier today Last week I got into this twitter conversation (couldn't publish earlier from inside China):
It’s a condensed conversation deserves some elaboration. When the term BPM is used, always bear in mind that there are 2 sides to that coin: A management discipline and a type of software system.

Here’s the basic context of BPM as a management discipline so that everyone is on the same page: At first, some desired result must be achieved. A manager typically breaks down the tasks to be done and delegates them to employees. That’s essentially a business process.

When people repeat those tasks, they learn and start to optimize locally. For example, they experience that they get faster response from that particular colleague, or they find easier ways to get to the same result. The participants in a process optimize their tasks. After a while, the overview can get lost on how the result actually is achieved. Then, inefficiencies can creep into the overall process.

So being a manager, it’s useful after a while to get an overview of how work gets done to achieve results. Analyzing and documenting these processes typically shows a number of obvious inefficiencies.

Now take that idea and apply it to the executive management of large corporations. For them to know the details of how things get done is a big challenge to say the least. That basically requires interviewing people on how they do things. And at the same time, these people have their own way of dealing with their part of the process. So they often see this as intrusion and unnecessary overhead. It even gets more difficult for them when they are asked to change they way they do their work.

Originally, BPM systems have been developed to support the line of thinking sketched above. In a BPM initiative that is overseen by executive management, processes are documented and analyzed with diagrams in a BPM system. After these models are documented and approved, the BPM system drives the implementation of the software system to support those processes. That’s the stage when IT gets involved. IT has a head start, because the BPM system can already execute the diagrams and contains a task list for the tasks that people have to do. The only thing IT has to do is add the integration with the existing systems. But still, it’s easy to see that this whole waterfall approach leads to relatively long implementation cycles.

If I understand Derek correctly, that is the context behind “most of the complexity of #BPM comes from the program and politics – not the tech” I totally agree with Derek on that part.

But this could be read as: Compared to the management aspect, the BPM system software is almost irrelevant. And as we’re about to change the nature of that game, I obviously feel the necessity to clarify to those that interpreted it that way ;-)

The traditional to-down approach is great, but only one part of what can be achieved. I’ve spent the last 10 years in open source development building communities. And that has thought me a very important lesson: Many people don’t need to be told what to do. They are very capable to make their own decisions. Without instructions on how to do things, they often surprised me and came with the brightest ideas.

A similar trend is happening in enterprises today. The IT revolution has created tremendous opportunity for literally all people in the company to get informed and stay up to date. More people then ever in the organization are totally capable of adding great insights to which processes should be created and how they should be improved.

In the same spirit, sufficient social features often (definitely not always!) remove the need for tight authorization control. Employees want to build a reputation and so they will not want to mess up things.

This means that the tight command and control patterns applied before need to be enriched with social tools that empower the enterprise community. Employees want to move the company forward and get those results. The new, responsible knowledge worker will look beyond his own responsibilities and be open to input from above and below.

Think about this: There are many people like this in each organization. Together, they have a ton of ideas to improve the business. Many of those ideas will turn out to be giant leaps for the company. And as a side effect, the employees will see more of the knowledge they gained being translated into improvements for the company. The new social fabric in enterprise solutions will give them due credit. That is a serious motivator, even if not all of their ideas will be realized.

Imagine the scale of all those people spread over all those layers in the organization thinking and improving simultaneous. And compare this to one top-down BPM initiative.

The cloud has even accelerated the options for people to become informed, collaborate and show responsibility. Of course, the higher in the hierarchy, the more power people have. So changes coming from the executive level still have the biggest potential impact. This applies both in the positive and negative sense.

The other cloud factor is simplified user experience. Cloud services target viral adoption. Therefore, they need to be simple. Making the scope of the service smaller makes it easier to be simpler. Dropbox is a good example of that. Cloud technologies have made it cheaper then ever to build a software company. In Silicon Valley and in tech hubs around the globe a massive amount of startups is trying every thinkable combination. That leads to incredible pace of innovation.

On the one hand, BPM systems will have to reinvent themselves to capture that full potential of the responsible, informed knowledge workers. On the other hand, there is the huge amount of inspiration coming from all the cloud startups with unprecedented simplicity. So now is a great time to leverage the inspiration build the next generation BPM systems.

With this context I‘ld like to add that the relevance of next generation BPM systems will be crucial to bring out those otherwise hidden innovations that are not subject to program and politics.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Lean Startup, The Easy Way

Six months into building Effektif and I’m still confident we are in the 10% that won’t fail. While I am very aware that startups have a high failure rate, I’ll share some insights as to why Effektif is in a luxurious position.

First of all I’m excited cause we’re on schedule. We’re about to finish our MVD (Minimal Viable Demo :-) and it rocks. The big new thing for me with Effektif was to build a product for end users instead of a technical component for developers. It’s a new experience, but I love it. The lean startup has totally worked for us in this initial phase. As a developer, I had always had an excuse to avoid user testing. The book convinced me to expose the product early and often to real users. It has been a great help to fine-tune the user experience and even pivot on some of the concepts.

The simplest aspect actually was the technology. On top of the experiences gained from building jBPM and Activiti, I only had to incorporate a new level of scalability on the backend. On the user interface side, Willi Tscheschner is an HTML 5 rockstar. He’s been driving Signavio’s web based BPMN editor and knows a thing or two about how to build great user interfaces in the browser.

Being the CEO is also new. Earlier this year I got totally inspired by In The Plex, the book that brings the story on how Google went from ambition to changing the world. There’s a big gap between being a new CEO and the inspiration in that book ;-) That’s where Gero Decker and Torben Schreiter come in. They take up their role as coaches very serious. They are co-CEO’s of Signavio and an important reason why Effektif is in such a good situation. They started Signavio 4 years ago and turned it into a global, fast growing cloud business without requiring venture capital. Kudo’s to what they have build. I appreciate a lot them sharing their experiences to help accelerate Effektif.

Together with Gero and Torben, we tuned our strategy and market position. The current BPM systems are far too complex. Effektif will make it orders of magnitude simpler for large and small organizations to connect people workflows with their existing enterprise systems. We actually take more inspiration from new cloud services like Trello, Wufoo and Ifttt then from the existing BPM vendors. The base pricing will of Effektif will be pay-per-use and come a lot cheaper then typical BPM products. For those with budget constraints, we also will offer a version with a guaranteed maximum.

The really luxurious part of Signavio’s investment in Effektif is their sales force. With their help, Effektif will reach to much more customers and at a much faster pace then normal startups can.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Case For Cases

Last year, the data produced in the world would fill DVD stack reaching from the Earth to moon and back. And it's growing exponentially. What does that mean for the enterprise? Piles of data do not always result in more information. On the contrary.

Especially for people performing knowledge work, it means it becomes harder to sift through vast amounts of information sources and share the right information with the appropriate people. It's not only time consuming, it's also risky. Tweets, Google+, Facebook, Blogs and Press articles are abundant and have typically a low signal-to-noise ratio. On top of that employees have to keep track of what's happening in their CRM, document management and many other enterprise systems. This means a greater exposure to loads of data that becomes on average less relevant. Procrastination never had an easier job looking for susceptible victims.

A case management solution is a fancy word for a system to share and discuss important topics in an business environment.  It's function is to bring people together on topics like eg introducing a new sales strategy or an important customer that may cancel a big order.  A case is the most efficient instrument to share related documents, links and tasks for topics like that.  In other words, a case is a social collaboration space for a specific topic.

To some extend, the scope of a case could be compared with an email discussion thread.  Before you bring it on, let me explain why that is a problem.  Email is ubiquitous and serves its purpose as the least common denominator for communication.  But using email has major drawbacks when used as the tool of collaboration.  First, you have to assume that people always hit Reply-All.  Reading a conversation where some people answer inline, some answer on top and some at the bottom is a challenge to say the least.  Searching the latest version of an attachment in a conversation is hard and error prone.  Involving someone later in an email discussion is hopeless as not everyone includes the whole discussion thread.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying cases should replace email threads.  People will continue to leverage email as a unified inbox for the foreseeable future.  But cases provide a much better structure for information that is currently buried in the emails themselves.  I think we will see a shift towards email being the unified notification inbox and the content will be stored in dedicated systems like case management systems.

For organizations larger then 10 people, it's a matter of professionalism to equip employees with a case management system.  It's the way to share relevant information in chaotic world with loads of noise and only a bit of signal.  People will be better informed and collaborating becomes simpler.  These improvements in the internal organization already justify adopting a case management system.  The bonus comes from collaborations with external business partners like prospects, clients and suppliers.  The advantages are just the same in this situation, and on top you show a professional approach to doing business.
Regrettably, not all solutions use the term case for this concept.  Some solutions call it a task and others invent a new name.  But it should be clear that every organization deserves a solution for social collaboration and case management is a crucial aspect of that.

Friday, 5 April 2013

BPM And Fruit Ninja

In The Zero Code Hypothesis, Scott Francis observes the contrast between 2 trends in BPM right now.  On the one hand there is Camunda explicitly saying the zero coding ambition is broken.  Scott comments:
It is kind of a fascinating counter-point to the movement to make BPM “more accessible” to the business, and I think it represents a pretty sizable chunk of the open source market that is in strong agreement.
On the other hand, there is the trend to further simplify process design for non-technical people.  Several BPM vendors concluded that BPMN is too complex for simple processes and started experimenting with process builders for people that don’t know BPMN.
Key passages from their presentation included “Enabling people who normally couldn’t do BPM or BPMN”.  BPMN was described as the invisible hand surrounded by UI.
Scott concludes that this is a contrast:
And to think that these sessions were all on day 1 of the same conference – totally different hypotheses on how to approach BPM and BPMN.
It’s a contrast, but I don’t think these two trends are contradictory. To me this is a sign that the BPM sector starts to realize that it’s dealing with two very distinct stakeholders.

BPM always has been about automating people tasks and combining those with technical system integration steps.  As such, BPM serves 1) non-technical business people that work out concrete steps how the organization should accomplish larger goals.  And 2) technical people weaving in the automatic steps and integration with other systems.

At Effektif, we take those two stakeholders as the starting point, and both types of users must get a tailored user experience.

In my opinion, it only takes a well-aimed Fruit Ninja move from the vendors to slice BPM so that both stakeholders are served well.  Meaning, with the right approach both business people and technical people can be served properly.

Slicing BPM becomes obvious if you consider all people related aspects separate from the technical aspects.  All people aspects in a process can be configured by non-technical business people.  Things like sending simple notification emails and filling out a form to complete a task don’t require technical knowledge. By default, all processes should have the ability to attach documents, links and have a discussion.  With these capabilities, non technical people can already build a broad range of useful processes that don't require technical integrations.

Fruit Ninja precision is required to resist the temptation of adding small technical aspects that enable the next interesting feature.  I believe that is where traditional BPM vendors fail miserably. In order to keep simplicity, a BPM system must cut out rigorous any technical aspect from business person’s user experience.

That slicing between technical and non-technical aspects is applied rigorously throughout the Effektif product.  It ensures a superior user experience for the non technical managers automating people processes.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The 4 Best Books I Listened To Recently

For some reason or another reading books is just not meant for me. However, when jogging or cycling, I first switched from listening to music to podcasts. Now that really works for me. Here's my favorite podcasts
This American Life
The Java Posse
NPR's Planet Money

More recently I got an Audible subscription and really enjoyed these books

The 7 habits of highly effective people, by Stephen R. Covey

This should be a mandatory book in high school. Even if you think you're socially skilled, this book will show you whole new dimensions of listening to people and taking a constructive approach in communication.  It's actually this title that inspired me to name my new startup effektif.com.

In the plex, by Steven Levy

This is a very inspiring story with loads of cool anecdotes.  You get a peek inside Google when it was booming.  It shows that by taking an overdose of ambition, you can look from a different angle at problems then most people do.  The ambition that sparks out of the book works really contagious. It made me believe I could actually start a booming business of my own :)

The lean startup, by Eric Ries

A classic by now and a must read for everyone that thinks of founding a startup.  After the inspiring 'In the plex' that made me dream, this was the perfect counterweight that put my feet back on the ground.  It explains that most startups fail and provides a very practical approach to maximizing chances of success.

Getting things done, by David Allen

Confession: For this book I actually read the paper version.  After my studies, this is one of the only books I've managed to read completely since then.  And that's intended as a complement to the book :)  It's a practical guide on how typical knowledge workers can reduce stress and get more done. This book is related to the concept of inbox zero. If you are struggling with your inbox, go and read or listen to this book.

What great podcasts or books do you recommend?