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Archive for the ‘acm’ Category


“Method and Routine” is the title of the chapter 4 of the book 2 of Clausewitz On War. It was written between 1816 and 1830, the author was taken away by cholera before he could complete the final revision of this work. Only the first chapter of the first book was considered finished.

I found a few passages in “Method and Routine” that could be put in perspective with business process management / workflow. In our age, it’s common to draw parallels between the conduct of war and the conduct of business, so let me reproduce those passages here. I’m very interested in the rise of ACM and its relation to BPM (see Mastering the Unpredictable), those quotes bring forth valuable reflections (for me at least).

I took them from the excellent Howard and Paret translation, for those of you who read German, here is a link to an online version of the book/chapter.

“Method,” finally, or “mode of procedure”, is a constantly recurring procedure that has been selected from several possibilities. It becomes routine when action is prescribed by method rather than by general principles or individual regulation. It must necessarily be assumed that all cases to which such a routine is applied will be essentially alike. Since this will not be entirely so, it is important that it be true of at least ‘as many as possible’. In other words, methodical procedure should be designed to meet the most probable cases. Routine is not based on definite individual premises, but rather on the ‘average probability’ of analogous cases. Its aim is to postulate an average truth, which, when applied evenly and constantly, will soon acquire some of the nature of a mechanical skill, which eventually does the right thing automatically.

(Routines) As such they may well have a place in the theory of conduct of war, provided they are not falsely represented as absolute, binding frameworks for action (systems); rather they are the best of the general forms, short cuts, and options that may be substituted for individual decisions.

Finally we have to remember that as the number of officers increases steadily in the lower ranks, the less the trust that can be placed on their true insight and mature judgement. Officers whom one should not expect to have any greater understanding than regulations and experience can give them have to be helped along by routine methods tantamount to rules. These will steady their judgment, and also guard them against eccentric and mistaken schemes, which are the greatest menace in a field where experience is so dearly bought.
Routine, apart from its sheer inevitability, also contains one positive advantage. Constant practice leads to brisk, precise, and reliable leadership, reducing natural friction and easing the working of the machine.
In short, routine will be more frequent and indispensable, the lower the level of action. As the level rises, its use will decrease to the point where, at the summit, it disappears completely. Consequently, it is more appropriate to tactics than to strategy.

But any method by which strategic plans are turned out ready-made, as if from some machine, must be totally rejected.

The chapter ends with warning about poverty of imagination and examples where routines where re-used out of context and led to [military] disaster. (Could the re-use of those quotes out of their original context led to [some kind of] disaster ?).

When it comes to strategy and tactics, here is how Clausewitz put it in the same book :

Tactic teaches the use of armed forces in the engagements.
Strategy teaches the use of engagements for the object of war.


Written by John Mettraux

August 6, 2010 at 6:52 am

Posted in acm, books, bpm, workflow

old process, knowledge worker

I’ve started reading Mastering the Unpredictable by Keith Swenson et al. I’d like to weave two links from from the first chapter to two things I have been exposed to.

“Mastering the Unpredictable” is a collection of Essays by Keith Swenson, Max J. Pucher, Jacob P. Ukelson and others. Those essays are reflections on “Adaptive Case Management” (ACM) and its rise alongside “Business Process Management” (BPM) (or where the BPM dream falls short). The title of the book derives its name from the unpredictability of the flow of work ACM would like to support.

the old process

The first chapter of the book is entitled “The Nature of Knowledge Work”, it starts with an example of a night rescue operation. How unfitting a BPMS (Business Process Management System) is for supporting the planning of such an operation. That reminded of a process I’ve been taught in officers’ school. You might summarize it as “assess, plan, execute” (as the first chapter of ‘MtU’ does), but let’s take the time to re-read that process definition.

I’m translating from my native language to english, here is the transcript :

The military method of decision taking acknowledges that
– only a systematic and rational process allows the integration of several people in the decision process,
– most of the time, the commander and the staff are under time pressure, are faced with doubt, only get imprecise, wrong or outdated pieces of information.

The commanding activities gather all the activities of the commander and of the staff, from the arrival of a task or the occurrence of a situation requiring an action, until the achievement of the task.

By respecting always the same sequence of commanding activities, the commander and the staff acquire the confidence necessary to lead in extraordinary and crisis situations.

The flow of commanding activities, performed successively :

1. planning the action
1.1 grasping the problem
1.2 urgency measures triggering
1.3 setting the schedule
1.4 situation assessment
1.5 decision taking
1.6 engagement plan conception
2. leading the action
2.1 issuing orders
2.2 control and conduct of the engagement

The evolution of the situation, as followed by the commander and his control and intelligence teams are the basis for direction the engagement. A change in the situation triggers a new commanding activities process.

During the action planning phase, it might be wise or it is simply necessary to start planning ‘reserved decisions’. The result of the planning of those decisions can generally be used during the action leading phase.

Apart from the direction of the ongoing engagement, the staff has to take care of the planning of subsequent potential task, this is called subsequent planning. The result of this planning is a new engagement plan or new engagement orders.

The first paragraph is interesting : “only a systematic and rational process allows the integration of several people in the decision process”. This process is a convention, shared by the members of a military organization, meant to blossom between a commander and his staff.

When I got taught this process, it often got referred as “commanding rhythm”. We were meant, as young officers, to already breath it, follow its flow. When a new mission arrived or a new situation occurred, we had to quickly grasp the problem at hand, trigger urgency measures (in order to preserve [what was left of] our initiative), determine when the decision would be taken, and all sorts of “when”, then assess, decide, plan… With the staff in our heads.

We were taught to learn and apply this process on our own, so that a) our decisions would be produced efficiently b) we could later join staff and participate in the process collaboratively for a commander. With some luck and lots of skills we could c) command, leveraging the people + the process.

the knowledge worker

The first chapter of “Mastering the Unpredictable” goes on with the distinction between routine work and knowledge work. The character of the “knowledge worker” is evoked, and that reminded me of this passage, from another book :

When an architect sits down with pen and paper to determine the strength of an abutment by a complicated calculation, the truth of the answer at which he arrives is not an expression of his own personality. First he selects the data with care, then he submits them to a mental process not of his own invention, of whose logic he is not at the moment fully conscious, but which he applies for the most part mechanically. It is never like that in war. Continual change and the need to respond to it compels the commander to carry the whole intellectual apparatus of his knowledge within him.

He must always be ready to bring forth the appropriate decision. By total assimilation with his mind and life, the commander’s knowledge must be transformed into a genuine capability.

This is taken from Carl von Clausewitz On War (Howard and Paret edition, p. 147). There is the opposition between routine work and knowledge work. Clausewitz goes on and speaks about “natural talent” for the crafty knowledge work… commander.


These were my two links. An old process and an even older (~1830) quote about knowledge work.

The tool of the commander is his staff. What is the tool of the knowledge worker ?

For those of you lucky enough to be in Japan this friday, Keith Swenson will be speaking about Mastering the Unpredictable in Yokohama. Feel free to register at


Written by John Mettraux

June 28, 2010 at 2:16 am

Posted in acm, bpm, workflow

workflow, bpm, selected resources

I have started to gather posts and blogs I think are worth a read in the workflow, BPM, Adaptive Case Management, rules, etc fields.

The list is at

I hope to list there resources that are sincere and passionate, and that challenge my point of view on workflow engines and enterprisey programming in general. I will try to avoid things that are press release like, that include words like “leading” or “fortune 500”, that are too closed, not leaving place for a slice of doubt.


Written by John Mettraux

March 31, 2010 at 4:35 am

Posted in acm, bpm, rules, ruote, workflow