Knowledge processes cannot be managed following standard business process management paradigm. In following article some guidelines are given for organizations willing to better manage their knowledge processes.
In last few years a lot has been written about Business Process Management, and about technologies supporting it such as BPMS, SOAP and Web Services. Most of these theories, tools and techniques refer to processes of a highly structured nature.
Typically, BPM theorists and practitioners have focused on highly structured processes, like back-office processes of industrial or administrative nature. These processes are highly standardized and repeatable, produce a consistent output and are likely to be automated in part or end-to-end (STP). All process instances are executed in a very similar way and it is easy to draw a flowchart detailing sequence in which tasks are executed. It is also possible to formalize business rules that guide decisions, normally based on evaluation of some process variables.
But recently other kinds of processes have caught attention of process management specialists. They are known as knowledge processes, or knowledge-based processes. Knowledge processes can be defined as "high added value processes in which achievement of goals is highly dependent on skills, knowledge and experience of people carrying them out". Some examples could be management, R&D, or new product development processes.
Knowledge workers carry out these processes by taking into account multiple inputs (generally a wide set of unstructured data and information) to perform difficult tasks and make complex decisions among multiple possible ways of doing work, each one implying different levels of risk and possible benefits. They are dependent on individuals and it is not possible to automate them.
One example of a knowledge process is "Marketing a new product". The same steps are followed each time a new product is launched (benchmarking competitors, deciding pricing strategy, planning promotion, etc...), but it is experience, knowledge and intuition of people that drive process to success.
Multiple inputs to process exist
Some of them would be competition, lifecycle stage of market, brand image, budget, etc...
Complex decisions are made
There are many possible ways to achieve process objectives (reach planned sales, leverage brand image, etc...)
Each decision implies different levels of risk and potential benefits
It is responsibility of worker to choose best one (low price strategy, aggressive advertising campaign, etc...)
There are three main characteristics that make knowledge processes different from highly structured processes:
Focus is on communication instead of automation
The key to process improvement is to clearly communicate process definitions (the way in which company wants processes to be carried out) to people in charge of their execution (through training, process descriptions publication, etc...). The better process participants understand process definition, higher probability that process is carried out according to it.
They are better implemented through obtaining buy-in than through imposing directives
They are more difficult to implement through discipline than administrative human-centric processes (although some discipline is needed). It is better to focus on obtaining buy-in from people affected by processes through early involvement, communication and expectations management. It is a known fact that knowledge workers are reluctant to change their habits. Some say knowledge workers don't like following procedures because they feel it limits their creativity; but most of time they will be happy to follow a procedure as long as they see value in it, perceiving that it helps them work better and produce a better process output.