Thursday, 12 July 2007

Book Review – Human Interactions

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Human Interactions

The Heart and Soul of Business Process Management

By Keith Harrison-Broninski

304 Pages published by Meghan-Kiffer Press ISBN 0-929652-44-4

This book offers a refreshingly different perspective on BPM. Instead of the thinly veiled system approach of many other books Keith reminds us that managing and controlling processes is what we are ultimately trying to achieve. He also reminds us that whatever people may say or think the fact is that most work processes (and the hardest ones to control) occur between people (rather than between computer systems). The book puts forward some very powerful ideas to support these new ways of thinking about processes and the systems that support them. These suggestions and arguments are supported by a great deal of thought and theory.

If Geary Rummler is to be remembered for "Managing the White Space" on the organization chart then surely Keith will hope to become known as the man who set forward the agenda for "Managing the White Space" in the process map!

The central idea of the book is that the issue is less to do with understanding and automating individual processes and more to do with managing and controlling the literally thousands of processes that go to make up an organisation. This of course cannot be carried out effectively without fully understanding and managing the Human Interactions of which most work is comprised. As Keith points out "Many organizations have yet to realize that they are sleepwalking into a world where we simply move from a set of legacy applications to a set of legacy processes and swap a set of functional silos for a set of process silos." In that respect this book is a must read for Process Professionals and Systems Analysts alike.

In essence the book has four elements to it – and they do not necessarily appear in order – they are;

  1. That Human Interactions form the basis of most of the work in an organisation.
  2. An explanation of the science and psychology behind how such interactions take place.
  3. The argument that current approaches to capturing and modelling these interactions are unsuitable.
  4. That there are lessons to be gained from Role Activity Theory that may help.


Items a) and b) are very well covered (although it might have been nicer if they had been specifically separated out), whilst items c) and d) are a matter of perspective.

In his arguments on modelling Keith quite rightly asserts that for most business users current notations and tools are hard to follow and onerous in use. However from a personal perspective I suspect the alternative modelling approach suggested in the book may suffer from the same fate. But, as Keith points out, the issue is not about which notation one uses to model the interactions – it is more about the fact that they need to be captured and managed in a structured way. As ever the challenge is that almost any kind of model suitable for constructing a system will be constructed by specialists using some kind of specialist notation. Whereas business people are actually quite comfortable with the concept of flow charts to describe what they do (and because they use them for illustrative purposes they are not overly concerned by rigour and detail either.)

The great thing about this book is that instead of suggesting that all previous approaches to process were wrong and offering a new panacea, it tries to borrow and build from what has gone before. In this way hopefully a larger audience should be able to engage with the ideas and theories presented. In particular he suggests that a blend of both Petri nets and pi-calculus be used in order to provide a formal underpinning to process management and permit its potential systemisation. This approach is sure to cause great debate among purists and Keith has certainly positioned himself well for debates with just about everybody!

As with many other books by technologists or vendors, this one too concludes with detailed advice on how to develop and deliver better systems for the business, which whilst it may be useful, is a shame. I say this because the book provides much good information around the theory of how people work together and if that was blended with the desire of businesses to focus on successful customer outcomes, then I think the message could be even more powerful.

In summary I would suggest that this is a great book for Process Specialists and those wishing to gain deeper insight into why in many cases the current technological approaches fail to catch the imagination of business people. It may also appeal to some Business Managers and Business Analysts, as the theory presented in the first three chapters is sure to be of interest, but the technical nature of latter parts of the book may prove to be a slight struggle for some such readers. I also hope that Keith is able to continue to build upon this initial work as I believe that the essence of what he is trying to achieve here is extremely important, and in the world of process truly new ideas are hard to come by.

1 comment:

Luis Bender said...

Mark, as you probably know, Keith has moved on and developed a tool to support the ideas presented in his book.