Dynamic BPM, along with Adaptive Case Management, is the name given to a growing body of practical knowledge about building better software for business process. The trouble with much of existing BPM is that poorly done, the implementation of BPM can contribute to a reduction in organizational flexibility. The wags have it as "pouring concrete over your business" -- as if enough concrete wasn't already there from the acquisition of ERP systems. It's fair to say that no one is to blame for this -- and ERP systems, along with BPM -- are important. But ERP and BPM are important in the way that concrete is important -- as a strong but somewhat immobile foundation.
What has an association of BPM, ERP and inflexibility to do with "work"?
And why the catchy teaser subject about "zero hits" on Google"?
As of 10:15 pm ET, Thursday, March 3rd, 2011, a search in Google for "Dynamic BPM" and "Theory of Work" delivers zero hits on the combination! Aside from being entertaining in a geeky sort of way (it's difficult to get zero hits on so few words or phrases), this absence of results is rather telling. On their own both phrases can be found. "Dynamic BPM" is still in its infancy since likely being invented by analyst firms; the search generates 25,000 hits. "Theory of Work" is somewhat more popular at 195,000 hits.
Why would your host think that the two phrases should at least have some overlap? And what is the implication of the fact that they don't?
BPM, referring to "business process management", is about work. It is about the work of organizations in public and private sectors and about the application of technology to the execution and organization of that work. BPM is specifically about repetitive work, but work nevertheless. (The fact that BPM is about work seems to elude many of the practitioners of BPM, a fact that can be attested to by perusal of some of the definitions offered for BPM on LInkedIn BPM specialist forums.)
That BPM is about work situates BPM at the very core of business and organizational activity. More than any other technology, BPM is the technology of which senior executives need to take note. The success or failure of a BPM program is about the success or failure of the instantiation in technology of a business vision and in ways of doing business in an organization.
Ultimately, organizations will be judged on their BPM savvy, in the way that they are now judged on their stock performance or other measures. When you think about it, all these other measures are really only indirect proxies for measuring how organizations successfully execute their work. Because ultimately, work is what organizational life is about.
If BPM is about work, and organizations are about work, what is "Dynamic BPM"? And why is Dynamic BPM even more interesting in the context of the idea of work?
Dynamic BPM is apparently BPM where all the concrete-pouring constraints of traditional BPM have been removed -- and individual workers and managers can, with zero or low latency, adjust workflows and task allocations "on the fly". (The appearance of Dynamic BPM parallels the appearance slightly earlier of "Adaptive Case Management", which is a related attempt to address the rigidities of BPM from the perspective of parallelism.)
Taken to its asymptotic logical conclusion, perfectly Dynamic BPM would describe technology that perfectly supports the work of any autonomous actor (human or machine) engaged in work. And in the context of a rational organization, perfectly Dynamic BPM would seamlessly implement the organizational rules that give meaning to a particular way of executing work. This is a marvellous vision, of software so wonderful that it fits the human purpose for work the way well-designed hand tools are also fit for their purposes.
Will we ever get to BPM nirvana? In fits and starts, likely. But not without a theory about the reason for Dynamic BPM. Building Dynamic BPM software without a theory of work is like building bridges without calculus -- it can be done, but the results are unimpressive and perhaps even dangerous. And by the crude measure of counting the results from the search terms listed, the evidence is that Dynamic BPM is not currently built on a theory -- specifically a theory of work, which would be the domain theory which is the entire raison d'etre for BPM in the first place.
Post Script: In fairness, there is a growing body of research on work and technology, including BPM technology. Nevertheless there is not yet a strong and fruitful linkage between such theory and practical applications. We are still building BPM bridges by "rule of thumb".