Thursday, November 05, 2009

Case management - follow the bouncing ball

I just had the unfortunate pleasure of tuning in to a sponsored webinar called "Smart Case Management: Why it's so smart" on ebizQ - unfortunate because I tuned out before the end and missed what was so smart about it. Unless I really missed the punchline though, I am starting to believe that nobody in the traditional business process management (BPM) software industry really understands case management. This is probably because it doesn't fit their view of the world, so they'll just force fit everything into fixed workflows (sorry, 'executable business processes' is the marketing term) and add a rules engine, or a pretty collaborative-esque UI, or whatever other thing they own that helps them try a new marketing tactic.

If you know that you have a major business process with a need for real case management, not 'smart, slideware case management', how do you convince your boss that traditional BPM might not be the real answer? See if these five attributes fit your business process:
  1. A large chunk of the process is centered around knowledge workers, experts, brokers, underwriters, assessors, analysts, specialists, or whatever else you might call the people using brainpower to get the work done
  2. Your process has many starting points, and channels through which a 'case' may begin, or be identified as being part of a pre-existing case (phone, email, customer call, broker, management edict)
  3. There are many possible successful (and possibly unsuccessful) outcomes that represent the end of this process, but not necessarily signify the end of the whole case (the client lives on)
  4. The users of the system need to be guided when to deal with work in workflows centered on this case, but also need to be able to interact with it at any other time (such as when a client calls unexpectedly or the auditor stops by)
  5. The general flow of work may follow a fairly basic structure, but a case must always have the opportunity to deviate from that previously defined path, to cater to: the unusual situations; the escalations; the high-risk / high-value opportunities; the client threatening litigation; the partner offering a huge deal.

To visualize what case management is, try this. Think of the bouncing-ball that used to guide you in singing the lyrics on TV and early karaoke. (Image courtesy of ASIFA)

The ball is the 'case' (an account, partner, client, policy, etc or combination thereof). As the ball bounces along its path, the singer is guided and assisted in singing the song to the predefined flow. Real life says that the singer, being the expert in vocalization of words and tunes (the animator of the ball maybe can't sing), may actually deviate from the written words, as he or she ad-libs a little. The TV doesn't prevent them from doing so, but certainly makes it easier for them in an unfamiliar tune if they can follow the flow.

As the ball is bouncing along, you look closer at it and realize that it has a bunch of other items revolving around it (visualize electrons around the neutron if the ball was an atom). These other items are the processes and communications that go on as needed around the core case (such as the auditor digging in to the detail). Typically they interact with the ball and the words, but unless something goes wrong, they don't throw it off its bouncing path.

Occasionally a separate harmony kicks in, and the ball (here the visual messes up a bit) floats between multiple lines of lyrics being sung by different people. No one person is the owner of the tune, and they all interact a lot, or slightly as they harmonize. The case follows the tracks of the different processes, for as long as required, though not necessarily according to a predefined path.

Finally the song ends and there is a successful outcome. The singer, and the ball, don't disappear though, they just go off to do different things for now.

So, if you were able to visualize that, you have a good sense of the complexity of case management, and why it is so valuable for some business processes. It is the facilitator to the case (the ball), following its general path, while allowing everything else to get on with what needs to be done around it, and enabling the 'ad-libs' to result in a better outcome than a strictly mechanical approach. In reality, case management reflects the real life of business, clients, opportunities and day to day work, and the value that smart people can bring to what they do when the systems the use allow them to do so.

A post from the Improving It blog

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