On It, Boss!
If the phrase “On it, boss” doesn’t resonate with you, it’s probably because you don’t watch the television show NCIS, which is now in its 14th season. The team at the Naval Criminal Investigation Service investigates crimes, frequently murders, but they’ve also confronted thefts, espionage, and terrorism. When challenged by their boss, Special Agent Leroy
Jethro Gibbs (played by Mark Harmon), to uncover evidence or find information about a case, both Anthony “Tony” DiNozzo (played by Michael Weatherly) and Timothy McGee (played by Sean Murray) frequently answer, “On it, boss,” even when they haven’t actually started doing anything.
It’s a phrase I’ve started to hear people say in real life when they start a project or begin an assigned task. Why does “On it, boss” have such appeal? It’s short, it’s pithy, and conveys quickly that they’re eager to get started. What they’re really saying is that they’re working hard on the case. But “We’re on the case, boss” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as the shorter, snappier “On it, boss.” “We’re on the case” sounds a bit stilted, as if came from a British murder mystery written decades ago. Similarly, “managing the case” just doesn’t convey the same impression as the phrase “case management.”
A Case of Meanings
In case you’ve never thought about it, that short word “case” packs a wallop of meanings into its four letters.
- Thieves case the joint.
- The case went to trial.
- It was a case of mistaken identity.
- She put the laptop in her computer case.
- He came down with a case of the flu.
- They bought a case of beer.
- In case of fire, break glass.
- The case is closed.
- Pronouns that follow verbs are in the objective case.
Even the phrase “case management” can have different meanings depending on where it’s used. In the medical world, case management very specifically refers to the teamwork among medical personnel to assess, plan, facilitate, coordinate, and evaluate someone’s health condition so they can get well. There’s an entire professional association for these case managers, CMSA (Case Management Society of America). Case management in law firms tracks the legal cases the firm is working on, along with potential pending legal cases.
For knowledge workers in general, case management has a much broader meaning. The case in question could be customer relationships, fraud investigations, requests for information on business topics, contract templates, or a number of other situations. When we’re on the case in the knowledge management community, we’re solving problems that involve a dynamic, unstructured approach, creating more efficient workflows, and developing content that is readily accessible across the organization. Case management is frequently distinguished from business process management (BPM) in terms of structure, with BPM using a systematic approach and structured processes. BPM is repeatable, but case management is unpredictable. Both have important roles to play in managing organizational operations.
I was very taken by Amanda Ulery’s criteria for selecting a case management provider, as this can be a hard case to crack. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about categorizing how something is done as a solution mantra, but I like the idea. She spells out the various alternatives that you should consider when choosing a case management solution provider. I wonder if she’d consider “On it, boss” as a mantra.
The question of content is always tricky. Content may be king, as she says, but the king can wear many different types of crowns and vestments. Will it be ermine robes today or a bright red military uniform? Her point that the correct solution “should handle all variations in content and provide an easy way to get the right content to the right knowledge worker at the right time” is easier said than done. You do want that to happen but you also need to ensure that a vendor can actually meet the specification rather than just say they can.
Her third point, about flexibility and scalability, seems to me to be endemic to the notion of case management. In many management situations, you simply don’t know what’s going to happen. Change is the only constant. If all work were routine, processes would be easy to define and implement. But that’s not the case. Without software that is flexible and scalable, case management would fail because it would not sync with the real live cases it’s trying to manage.
Your organization might be small enough to define itself as being in only one industry—insurance, financial services, education, or manufacturing, for example. So why would you be interested in a vendor’s track record with other industries? Even single industry enterprises have multiple internal operations that might require the expertise a vendor has gleaned from other industries. And the company might decide to go in a different direction or acquire another company in a different industry. I think Ulery’s insistence on vendors having a track record across industries speaks to her previous point about flexibility and scalability.
On the Case
If you’re evaluating case management solutions, you can take advantage of the decision points presented by Ulery to guide your thinking and formulate your questions. Although it’s not on a par with catching criminals, as the NCIS team does, paying attention to the many parameters of case management software will let you proclaim, with authority, “On it, boss!”