My first real recollection of the use of chaos theory was from the movie Jurassic Park. Based on the book by Michael Crichton, Jeff Goldblum played the role of Dr. Ian Malcolm, a chaos theorist. A chaos theorist uses mathematical models to determine if changes in initial conditions can cause wild and unpredictable results. One of the most common uses is the butterfly effect, where if a butterfly flaps it wings, weeks later the result is a hurricane. Throughout the movie Jurassic Park, Dr. Malcolm claims chaos theory is in action.
So this got me thinking, how does chaos theory relate to business process management? Are we trying to make sense from nonsense? If you look at chaos theory from a business process management perspective, probably the number one reason a client engages your services is because of chaos within their current processes. The current processes may be providing unpredictable results, everyone is doing something different, IT systems don’t support the process the way they are supposed to, and the list goes on and on. So you come in and help the business to identify their business problem(s) and determine a BPM solution to solve the business problem(s). You document the current state, analyze the business processes for improvement opportunities and design a future state that the organization will utilize. The new process has metrics so we can measure the outcome and control the process, everyone is trained to use the new process, they are sold on the benefits of this new process and of course, the IT systems are upgraded to support the process through process automation and providing timely and quality data. You are claimed a hero and leave for your next business opportunity.
So what happens? Chaos rears its ugly head and the business changes how they do business in order to survive and grow. The management team changes. Processes are not reviewed or updated. Metrics are deemed not trustable thus ignored and the IT systems are not changed to keep up with the business change, resulting in manually maintained spreadsheets, databases and documents. So you are engaged again to bring the processes up to date and engage IT to update or change the systems based on the requirements of the new modified process. Management is engaged and the organization adopts the new process. Success again is declared and off you go again. Want to take a guess at what happens next?
If this is BPM chaos theory, then can we avoid it or at least minimize the impact? I believe we can if we identify, train and reward process owners. There should be a process owner for each business process or group of related business processes and include in the process owners compensation plan, rewards for process performance, hopefully based on process metrics. This will not eliminate chaos; remember small things can result in a big impact, but with at least a process owner, the process won’t go ignored and end up in “total chaos”.
What do you think about this?