Adaptive Process Guidance (APG)

28 01 2011

Now this isn’t a term I had heard, in-fact I think I may have invented it when talking to the people at workFile some weeks back (if you have heard this term before, let me know), but it seems to fit much of my thinking regarding BPM. So much so that I have been mentioning it now on numerous post responses and Twitter…

I am a strong believer in a holistic approach to BPM, one that also includes real adaptive capabilities (such as those found in ACM – adaptive case management). For me, much of what is termed BPM is far too rigid, too structured and doesn’t really allow BPM to expand into many processes a business may have.

BPM, too rigid, too structured

Thinking of BPM in the traditional BPMS sense, we find we need to design up front structured processes, typically through a designer tool. Even if we are practicing BPM and not actually using any software, we still end up using flowchart type tools. The problem here is that BPMS implements the solution based on that flowchart, which is highly structured and very rigid. This is the perfect tool for medium – high volume processes that are simply and repeatable, but how many of those do you have in your business?

When we start to look at other processes across our organisation, we find that the same structure, and rigid approach to a process doesn’t work well here, and as such, many organisations won’t implement BPM for those processes / departments. This means that for these departments, many of the benefits that BPM is there to provide simply can’t be leveraged, benefits such as increased efficiency, increased accountability, visibility and the ability to enforce a certain level of standards. So what’s the solution? Some point to Case Management, and they are right, Case Management here does fit, but, our business then will have to invested in a Case Management solution, the professional services that come along with that, and a BPMS, and the professional services that come with that too…..That’s a lot of investment….

Adaptive Process Guidance

So is the half way house a solution that has adaptive capabilities, similar to those found in ACM (adaptive case management), and the process like steps found in BPM? I think yes…

So, we want the best from ACM and the best from BPM, but compromise will have to be made somewhere. So that compromise is process guidance as opposed to process enforcement (as found in BPM).

Process guidance allows for us to deliver highly adaptive capabilities, with users identifying processes as they work and updating our platform accordingly. We can also allow our platform to adapt based on what tasks are actually being done by users in a process. In effect, we are empowering users to work how they want, and allowing them to update the process guide to ensure standards, accountability, visibility etc. etc. (all good points of BPM) are still maintained in a solution.

Adaptive capabilities in process guidance allow individuals to work how they chose, and who is to say that the way Dave works is the best way for Dorris to work (sorry couldn’t think of names off the top of my head there). The adaptive capabilities allow a user to identify, that for this particular peice of work, the process needs modification, and they can have the option to update the process guide, for good, or just update it for this single instance (adaptive capabilities can also allow our platform to learn from these changes and how often they are being made). In addition, the way we choose to work as individuals or as teams is changing, many of us want to, or need to collaborate on a single piece of work, there are even studies suggesting that teams will swarm around a single piece of work to complete it as soon as they can. This is very different to our traditional BPMS which is all about a completing my work, and moving it on to the next person (or group) and the next step in the process. With this in mind, our process guide needs to be as flexible as possible, allowing users and departments to work how they feel is best.

Don’t think though that this will lead to inefficient processes. We still can monitor our processes, update process guides based on information provided by the platform and identify further efficiency gains. SLAs can still be put in place and there are areas that we can be very strict on. We will also find that the adaptive capabilities will ensure that all of the process is captured within our system, rather than just that which has been designed and our agents having to work outside the scope of the platform.

For these reasons I prefer a process guidance to enforcement, and I believe this approach will lead to more processes within an organisation finding their way into the solution, and most importantly, more processes benefiting from the solution. APG works well for adhoc processes, collaborative working and for medium-high volume structured processes (which BPM currently handles very well). This ultimately means that as a business, you need only invest in a single process management solution, so that’s reduced investment and a far more appealing ROI (if that’s how you want to measure success).


Social is a big buzz word at the moment for BPM and Case Management. APG is no different, the concept of capturing social interactions and how they impact a particular piece of work or process is just as important. The big difference here between APG and traditional BPM, is that this interaction and capturing is far easier, you can have social interactions actually updating our process guide. This can be a highly empowering tool for your teams, allowing processes to be detected, discussed and implemented. But the most important thing is to capture these interactions and ensure they are presented when reviewing process efficiency. For all the benefits of allowing users to update processes, a BA can still add value by identifying new areas of efficiency gain possibilities…

Throw in Holistic APG

Now we throw into the mix the holistic approach, ensuring the user has a 360 degree view of all the information they need, and we have a platform that really empowers end users. With a single silo, that incorporates ECM, CRM and APG (with APG effectively acting as ACM and or BPM, however you want to look at it) you have a complete holistic approach that delivers everything the user needs to a single desktop. This is real empowerment and is enabling them to work more efficienty and effectively for the company. This level of empowerment will lead to efficient processes, better customer experiences and more and more of the organisation benefiting from APG (and much more).

Quick conclusion?

BPM is Business Process Management, which is all about managing how work gets done. Case Management is all about managing how work gets done…The difference is how they enforce / enable users to get that work done. Adaptive Process Guidance is no different; it’s about managing how work gets done. The big difference is that APG is more flexible and easier to fit into many more business processes. It works just as well as BPM for medium-high volume, simply and highly repetitive processes, and it works just as well as Case Management for adhoc adaptive processes…

All in all, APG could be the future for how we choose to manage how work gets done…Or it could simply become yet another term associated with the world of BPM, workflow, Case Management, Adaptive Case Management, Complex Adaptive Solutions, Dynamic BPM, Social BPM etc etc etc etc….



19 responses

30 11 1999

I agree with what Tom says here: “Rather APG is a complementary concept. The reason I say that is that I think of guidance as just that, this is what you should be doing or asking or saying or etc., whereas the BPMS/ACM system would be the platform that enables the actual work to be done, enforces rules, and provides visibility.”

APG provides guidance, route map. But BPMS enforces rules and provides the platform and THAT is very critical in some industries (and geographies).

30 01 2011
Andrew Smith @onedegree

An APG solution will provide though the implementation too. it can provide highly structuterd fliws for higher volumn, highly repetative processes, and if needs be the platform can enforce certain rules. So this is like BPMS, however the big but here is that the same platform can provide for other processes much needed adaptive capabilities and process guidance that is not so rigid….

APG can be more than just a concept, thats my point. We are using APG to build a platform that works equally well fir typical BPMS implementations as it does for ACM implementations. APG also fits better for processes that ideally have a mix of BPMS and ACM…

APG is therefore something else as it does not fit into the BPMS or ACM definitions.

28 01 2011
Alberto Manuel


BPM cannot be confused with structured processes. BPM includes structured, unstructured (AD_HOC, ADAPTIVE, whatever). BPM is how you manage enterprise processes independently the way they are executed.

Structured work (workflow based) and ad-hoc knowledge intensive work coexist.

In the last 10 years companies drive effort to improve structured processes. They managed to design, document and train people to executed work on a pre-defined basis.
But managers forgot that the number of people who undertake knowledge work has increased exponentially.
Companies provided systems that allow people to share knowledge but forgot how knowledge work takes place. ADAPTIVE approach enables such need.

Knowledge workers require continuous access to the information they need.
And flexibility to design the way the work must be performed. Thus ADAPTIVE needs to be put in place.



28 01 2011
Andrew Smith @onedegree

I take your point when you talk about BPM as pure BPM. However, go into any business and talk about BPM and they have in their mind BPMS. This is structured processing, its rigid, and its within a flowchart type environment, hence I lump BPM into a structure process. Also BPM presumes we know and understand the process up front, which isnt the case. It also presumes that we can map out a flow for a peice of work, which again we cant always do…There are too many variations….Add to this the need that our users / team work more as a team and swarm, then you find BPM as it is, is very restrictive…

Where BPM fails, Case Management looks a better option, but where BPM excels, Case Management falls short, and thats areas you point out.

I dont think I have seen true Adaptive BPM anywhere. I think it doesnt exist…I cant imagine an end user going into a designer, modifying the process, re-routing work becuase the process needs updating based on a real time need…It just isnt going to happen. Yet ACM allows you to do that…So APG takes the best of both BPM and ACM…Thats my point / drive here…Thats real empowerment of users, while delivering what businesses need for more of their processes….

28 01 2011
Alberto Manuel

My last thoughts are on my original post regarding an investment program example (an intensive knowledge, dynamic and chaotic process).

28 01 2011
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28 01 2011
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28 01 2011

Andrew – good summary. Of course, there are degrees of flexibility. A range. Advice to BPM implementors: If your BPM-based solution is incredibly rigid, you’re doing it wrong.

Now, this does not mean that every BPM solution or BPMS will allow end users to define arbitrary new process, as the BPMS conceives of it – but it does mean that your model should stop short of defining details that can’t be defined appropriately. In other words, as we’re modeling a process, if you get to the part where someone says “wait, the end-user should be able to invent their own xyz here and here … ” etc., at that point it might be wise to stop and say – perhaps we just want to know the enter and exit criteria for this “activity” or “subprocess” and let the user do what they need to do (have a conversation, email 5 people, etc.).

Once you really understand what they’re doing in the “black box” you can then start to understand whether to apply features like the ones you mentioned (users creating flows, etc) or you can figure out what the universe of choices are, or where the Pareto principle kicks in.

28 01 2011
Andrew Smith @onedegree

I agree, thats why i like the guidance concept. I like the idea that users are guided through rather than forced through a process. I also like the focus on detection rather than design of a process which is what you can get from APG. Sure we can then redesign it once we have discovered it, but that is part of a refienment process in its self…

The problem I have with BPMS is the actual re-design / re-authoring part. It isnt instant / real time, the users have to jump throug a lot of hoops and they arent the ones who then update the process map…

In BPMS we also need to know whats going on in a process up front when looking at your, or any example, and for many processes across the enterprise we dont know the actual process, nor does a business have the time or money at the moment, to invest in a large consultation periods to understand more processes…

APG fits nicely here…Its ACM meet BPM , or BPM meets ACM…. Whatever your take, at the end of the day, its all about helping organisations take run more efficiently and to a higher standard….

28 01 2011
Tom Shepherd

@Andrew, I like the concept, however I don’t see what you’ve defined as APG being on a par with either BPMS or ACM. Rather APG is a complementary concept. The reason I say that is that I think of guidance as just that, this is what you should be doing or asking or saying or etc., whereas the BPMS/ACM system would be the platform that enables the actual work to be done, enforces rules, and provides visibility. Think of ACM/BPMS as the terrain across which the driver (user) navigates and the APG solution as the GPS. There are some good solutions providing Process Guidance (Panviva comes to mind), although they are not as adaptive as I think you’d want them to be (yet).

@Scott, I find myself nodding in violent agreement with the statement “your model should stop short of defining details that can’t be defined appropriately.” To me, that’s where the “adaptive” part of ACM comes in, giving the end user the ability to deal with work that falls into that fuzzy area after we’ve reasonably structured the work.

Good stuff!

28 01 2011
Andrew Smith @onedegree

HI Tom….

I think APG will become something like ACM / BPMS…We are working on this right now at workFile. The drive is a platform that allows designers, or users, to create cases and or processes, it allows them to adapt both elements quickly and easily (obviously with correct authorisation). The platform delivers guidance on a process because the user at any point can change it to suite that one off peice of work, or for the better of the process. This means actually changing the case content, or the tasks at a particular step, data fields, or perhaps defining a new trigger in the process etc etc. It doesnt enforce rules on the end user, rather gives them the guidance they need to do their job, effectively empowering them further…Granted this is similar to ACM, but it also builds on ACM by allowing structured processes to be defined and followed.

I also see APG fitting nicely into the whole holistic approach, with process guidance providing more information on the actual content that has triggerd the work (giving context to the peice of work). I am a strong believer in the user knowing the content, its context and status as a peice of work. This is where APG starts to move into its own I feel…

Granted, I perhaps need to come up with a strong definition of what APG actually means in an implementation world, and not just as a concept, but thats what we are working on at workFile with workFile Vision 2.0

28 01 2011
Tom Shepherd

Andrew, it could be that my definition of ACM is different than yours (or perhaps than the more esoteric versions). To me, ACM DOES allow structured processes to be defined and followed. Without doing do, the number of use cases for an ACM solution drop dramatically. I also believe that “giving context to the piece of work” is also key to ACM success. Most users need to have a full view of the work at hand (although it can be helpful to tailor that based on the user).

I have to disagree about not enforcing rules. Like it or not, there are times when users simply can’t do certain things, either because it violates internal policies and procedures or for regulatory reasons. It is also helpful in avoiding “not in good order” scenarios where work gets done without all the supporting information being present. While certain users should be empowered to override these rules (making them “soft”), others should not.

28 01 2011
Andrew Smith @onedegree


I dont see ACM providing me with the facilities to define a stuctured process, such as, these tasks etc are carried out at step a, i have routing options that can take me to b or c, and once i get to d, this is an automated step before triggering a new simultaneos process that has its own complexities…I dont see that in ACM, but I do with APG.

I agree that there are times when you have to enforce rules, and APG should allow this. What I am trying to drive at is that the process becomes a guide of how we should be working (sometimes highly enforced) other times just that a guide.

The problem I see is BPM is far too rigid, and requires definitions up front, knowledge of our processes and then these mapped out. ACM addresses this very well, but it doesnt allow me to build proper workflows, and as such falls down on high volume processes…

APG is the best of both worlds, and as such, works just as well in both ACM and BPM domains…I think this is the best way of delivering a single platform to organisations that meet both the high volumne, repetative process needs, and the process needs of complex ad-hoc scenarios…

I think APG has to be seen as something a little different as it is neither ACM, nor BPM, yet it is both….

28 01 2011
Tom Shepherd

As I said, my view of what ACM is and is not differs from some of the “unstructured purists”. In the product I work with now, Case360 from Global 360, I have the ability to do exactly what you described in terms of processes, not just to handle completely unstructured work. And the product scales to what I consider enterprise volumes. So while some of what you’re advocating (specifically the adaptive guidance bits) are things that don’t exist in ACM, much of what you’ve described already falls under the definition in my mind.

Certainly this is one man’s opinion, and we all know what opinions are worth. Regardless, I think you’re on a good path with what you’ve termed APG.

30 01 2011
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30 01 2011
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30 01 2011
3 02 2011
Max J. Pucher - Chief Architect ISIS Papyrus Software

APG is just another acronym for ACM. I don’t see anything mentioned here that is not in my ACM definitions. Some vendors think my definition goes too far and thats where your idea may come from that ACM can’t do what you propose as APG.

The key concept of ACM is not simply to change the process at runtime – which others refer to as DYNAMIC, but to modify ALL elements of the process for future execution. THere is no enforcement except where necessary through rules and authorization. Any user can be called in to participate and have work delegated. A process can be designed by simply starting to work at it and save the result to templates.

I am not sure what other invention or idea you would consider as being different to ACM in what you describe. Max

3 02 2011
Andrew Smith @onedegree

HI Max,

I have posted a response on the next APG article….

As ever good to read your thoughts…

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