BizAgi Modeler now with SharePoint and Web Publishing Options

January 6, 2010

Just happened to notice a mailing today from the folks at BizAgi talking about the ability to publish BPMN models to SharePoint.

BizAgi have been providing a free BPMN Modeling tool for a year or so now … around half a million people worldwide have downloaded the tool and make use of it. And as I have said before, I believe it is one of the best modeling tools available on the market (free or paid for). The drag and drop, “intelisense” UI is worth a look anyway and should give every other Process Modeling tool a run for their money.

The addition of a SharePoint publishing option is great – especially when you consider the other wide selection of import-export options, which include Word, PDF, Visio, XPDL, Web, and Wiki. The Web publishing mechanism is pretty cool, as is the presentation mode (allowing you to step around the process with a full screen presentation option, accessing all attached information and embedded docs, etc).

Not bad for a free tool. People often struggle with this “free” business model – just where do they make their money? Well, they also sell a fully featured BPMS which is available at several levels – an Xpress Version (limited to a 100 users), and all the way up to an Enterprise-scale BPM Suite. My understanding is that since they started giving away the modeling tool their business has exploded.

Coming back to the implications of the SharePoint publishing option, users can now push their content to their own communities of users. They can share their processes within the enterprise – at the click of a button. Of course there are going to be implications for SharePoint Administrators (setting up appropriate file structures), but in the end, users are now getting highly dynamic HTML, delivering a compelling experience to the business person.

For more information – check the Resource Center.

An Introduction to BPMN – Chapter 5 from the BPMN Modeling & Reference Guide

April 9, 2009

Recently, there have been a couple of blog postings on use of Signal events in BPMN. First was Rick Geneva and then a response from Dave French (waving hi to a fellow Kiwi).

Anyway it prompted me to look into my book (BPMN  Modeling and Reference Guide) and polish up a chapter for free distribution. So I put it on the BPM Focus web site (you’ll find it on Page 4 of the White Papers section). You’ll need to register to get access to the document, but dont worry that’s free. If you are already registered there, then you will just need to log in.

The reason for mentioning it within this context is the extensive use of Signals that I make within that Chapter.  I meant to post this some time ago, and of course it slipped. The discussion on Signals just reminded me to get it out there.

Modeling & The Current State (Modeling the “As Is” process is mostly a waste of time)

December 8, 2008

It seems a contentious point of view in Business Process Management – but when we come up to the “Understand Phase” (“As Is” or “Current State” model ), we recommend “time boxing” the work to ensure that the activity is kept at a suitably high level. The intention of this activity is really to create a baseline; a reference point for the BPM project.

Now those who continue with their “legacy thinking” perspective usually decide that it is important to create a detailed description of how work happens. They model everything in sight, trying to create an accurate representation of the work as it happens today. While this is good for the “billable hours” of consulting firms, it does little for the business managers engaged on a journey of change and discovery.

The point is that the amount of work expended here is usually wholly inappropriate to the benefit derived. If your intention is to change the way things happen, gathering a great deal of detail around current work practices is a waste of time. If you are going to improve things (with or without the use of automation), then you will be changing how the process is carried out … i.e. how things happen today will soon become a thing of the past.

Don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely essential to develop a baseline understanding of the ways things are done. It’s just a question of emphasis. The issue for those involved in the exercise is just what degree of detail is required. They should be asking “can we stop now?”

The real purpose of current state modeling is to establish a baseline – so that the team can establish a realistic business case (allowing them to track benefits and improvements during and after implementation), and to identify the areas that require attention.

This is more about a pragmatic assessment of reality and clarification of current performance metrics than it is about process modeling. The metrics in question are those that the customer of the process really cares about (not the detailed cycle times of some low-level sub-process). From a modeling point of view, the need is for enough structure to hang the metrics upon (and perhaps one level of detail below). Anything more than that is a waste of time and resources.

So how much detail do you really need? Well, I normally start with high level outline of the process – the major chunks and then draw a simple high level process model. I recommend a high level BPMN diagram, but I usually seek to contrast that model with a Role Activity Diagram (not the same as a flow diagram with swim lanes, RADs model how the Roles involve change state and synchronize their actions), and perhaps simple Object State Transition Network (how the things moving through the model change state).

With a high-level flow diagram or outline of the process, it is really very straight forward to develop these alternative views, but they really do help people see things differently. I often say that the problem with Flow Diagrams, is that “the more you look at them, the less they mean.” Flow diagrams always look correct – for example, in my recent book “BPMN Modeling and Reference Guide” (authored with Stephen White the main author of the BPMN specification itself), I have yet to receive a note from anyone telling us that we have a major flaw in one of the models (yes, there is at least one). It just looks correct (and this is a book where we tried our very hardest to make sure every model was “right”).

Incidentally, the best reference on RADs is Martyn Ould’s “Business Process Management – A Rigorous Approach.” And for OSTN, I prefer the IDEF3 perspective as it is relatively simple and easy to understand (UML also has similar modeling capabilities).

Coming back to the Understand Phase, in the workshops with the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), I also seek to understand the volumes of work, any major exceptions and the percentages of items that follow the major paths from decision points. The other thing to understand is the numbers of employees involved in the work (FTEs and the amount of time spent on each area of the process).  From that information you can calculate the costs of undertaking the work and where the money goes. You also need to understand the roles involved, and the capabilities of the staff members who fulfill those roles. All of these become essential ingredients for the business case. Without it you are whistling in the wind (when it comes to asking for funding). Even if you already have the funding, you should do this anyway (it will certainly be needed later).

I could go on here at length, but the point I am trying to make here with this blog post is this … if your consulting provider is asking you to fund a detailed “As Is” phase of work, then you are throwing money away. They are more interested in lining their pockets than assisting the client. The only exception that I can think of is where the process is itself highly regulated (and a rigorous work definition is mandated by law). In such cases, I think you have to draw your own conclusions on how to avoid “analysis paralysis.”

BPMN 2.0 – Marriage Made In Heaven or Trough of Disillusionment

October 31, 2008

Inside the OMG there has been a heated debate about whether BPMN 2.0 should become linked more explicitly to UML … so many heated exchanges to chew through. This blog posting was put together in that context.

It was originally Charles Box (and later Deming) who said: “All Models Are Wrong, Some Are Useful.” We should learn to live with that reality.

By modeling something, we are removing some aspect of the real world in order to represent it. And yet, the IT-oriented folks continue to flail about looking for one true modeling notation and set of semantics to rule them all (like string theory). As though how somehow everything must be translatable and interconnected. I think for most business folks – they don’t really care. They use models to communicate with each other … and yes, they use circles and arrows, and boxes and clouds, and … only a very few have the interest in making them all relate to each other.

It is only when we get down into the IT organization that all of this stuff has to be translatable and traceable … that all the classes and elements have to get along (be placed in some interconnected network of stuff).

We currently have a Business Process Modeling Notation (sans rigorous meta-model), we also have a Unified Modeling Language (avec rigorous meta-model)… both can be used to model processes (even businesses). But they are different and some folks feel the need to move stuff between these two approaches. We invented BPDM (another rigorous meta-model) as a mechanism for doing that sort of thing along with providing a competing BPMN serialization (to XPDL). But BPDM was deemed too hard by many (or too expensive to implement support for when you already have UML) … at least we have seen little appetite in the market by vendors for supporting it. Most of the BPM Suite/Workflow vendors out there are on XPDL.

The idea with BPDM was to create a semantic layer that would allow the translation between these modelling notations (and others). Or more precisely, that which can be translated should be able to be translated with “semantic integrity”. It would also allow for extension of the semantics for different needs. But for UML to work alongside this, would have meant a Profile for UML (or some other detailed integration at semantic level) – but the folks with the skills and expertise for this sort of thing chose not to invest their time and energy in developing such an interchange format (between UML and BPMN via BPDM).

But that’s all history now. What these well resourced players could sign up to was a future version of BPMN. So now we have BPMN 2.0 – with all the hope and promise of an effective marriage between orchestration (BPMN) and choreography (something that is needed for effective interchange of models but very few people understand fully).

The BPMN 2.0 RFP calls for: “A single specification, entitled Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN 2.0), that defines the notation, meta-model and interchange format … Extension of  BPMN notation to address BPDM concepts … [will need] changes that reconcile BPMN and BPDM to a single, consistent language. The ability to exchange business process models and their diagram layouts among process modeling tools preserving semantic integrity. Enhancements in BPMN’s ability to:

Model orchestrations and choreographies as stand-alone or integrated models. Support the display and interchange of different perspectives on a model that allow a user to focus on specific concerns.” Further … “Proposals shall specify conformance criteria that clearly state what features all implementations must support and which features (if any) may optionally be supported.”

At the same time, it now seems that BPMN 2.0 has to provide a high level modeling approach and traceability down through the stack (which means UML right). There are various other camps – all attempting to twist the specification in their own particular direction. I hear one group saying “let’s make BPMN reflect the needs of BPEL”; others saying well we should now make BPMN part of UML (I must get asked if that is going to happen at least once at every conference … always with a look of dread on the part of the person asking); others wanting stronger choreography support (personally I would like to see something emerge that could support a translation to Role Activity Diagrams which is a much more powerful approach to modeling how roles collaborate and inter-operate that what I have seen so far in BPMN 2.0).

So now that we are in the trough of disillusionment (the marriage vows have yet to be cemented, the RFP is but a hazy memory of a drunken engagement party). We have two different groups (power bases) lobbying for the ascendancy – well not really lobbying, lets just say they are struggling to work out what bits of each others proposals they like, what they can live with, and what they don’t like. And there is a lot more soul searching (work) to go on there.

Let’s recap on where we seem to be now:

  • There is a Notation Specification with some (IMNSHO) half baked choreography support (along with an abstract syntax). It fixes some things and has missed the point on others.
  • There is another Specification (that derives from the BPDM) which describes a more robust set of process semantics … let’s call that the Process Modeling Framework for the moment. This is still perceived as too difficult for some to wrap their heads around … but in the end it is where the UML piece will have to tie in (if someone is going to invest the effort).
  • Then there is a specification that is supposed to outline the mapping from one to the other.

As far as I can tell – all three of these documents require significant further work to marry and align – personally, I can’t see this being finished in the near future. It won’t be just a one cycle delay.  And that’s before we take on the UML interface challenge (although I am sure someone stepping up to the plate on that one would be welcome, they would be doing it against a moving target). We also need to think about how we will embrace the current XPDL community (an upgrade path). And now it looks like we are now about to invent a couple of new modeling approaches, which of course some are already saying should somehow be like BPMN (or UML).

In the end, this stuff only makes sense in context of enabling businesses to work more effectively. BPMN 2.0 needs to give true model portability (with semantic interoperability). We need conformance levels (but first we need to decide on where the lines in the sand are for those different levels). We need to … stop broadening the effort and focus more on getting to the result.

It can’t be that hard – especially when we have all the “Wise Wizards at OMGee” working feverishly on the problem.

Gartner BPM Summit Report

September 14, 2008

Well the book (BPMN Modeling and Reference Guide) is out, and we sold out at the Gartner BPM Sumit last week (we launched the book there). People would come up, thumb through it, think about it perhaps but then buy a copy. Several of them came back an hour or so later and bought more copies … with phrases like “this is actually designed for people to read …”, “the rest of my team need to read this …” and “I must get my boss a copy of this.” And then some of the vendors popped their heads above the parapet – one of the larger names in this space is now talking about buying 2000 copies (one for each member of staff I guess), and two others walked off with half a dozen copies for their colleagues. So all up, we were pretty pleased.

My “BPM and Modeling” track session was well attended (a couple of hundred delegates), and only 3 people fell asleep. Of course, it was directly after lunch, and modeling is not exactly the most rivetting of topics, although I did try to make it as interactive as possible (given the situation). I reiterated a central tenet of my approach to process modeling – in the early stages of a BPM initiative it is important to contrast modeling approaches to drive understanding (rather than slavishly following just one technique such as BPMN). The key point is that you need to be able to change your perspective … to see things differently if you want to really understand the process. Of course, when it comes to implementing a process using on a BPM Suite, then you need to resort to BPMN to get clarity into the execution model.

On Friday morning, I filled the (relatively small) room at the “BPM and Process Architecture” power breakfast, which was always going to be a difficult task given that the night before was the vendor parties (free booze). Anyway, several people complemented on an interesting session afterward. I had tried to communicate the set of methods we use to move from thinking about Strategy to through to implementation. This session included an overview of techniques to support the clarification and definition of:

  • What business are you really in, and what business services you need to support that vision.
  • From that, what is an effective Process Architecture -i.e. what processes do you need to support those business services and how do they communicate with each other, etc. (referencing the RIVA Process Architecture method).
  • And from there, how do you get to the SOA-based IT Services that are needed to support those business processes (i.e. how they are implemented). What service interfaces are required for each component, etc.

The problem is that, when it comes to process architecture there are very few reliable approaches … certainly functional decomposition falls down a hole here. Most rely on what I call the “black art” approach. They make the mistake of linking Process Architecture to the current mechanisms for apportioning blame (the organizational chat) – i.e. the Process Architecture should be independent of the organizational structure. If you change the way the departments and business units are structured, this shouldn’t force a refactoring of the processes.

I ended the session with a short overview of Case Handling approaches … an area that I feel is poorly understood (especially by vendors who have little incentive to change the status quo). Case Handling is really a design pattern enabling a balance between control and adaptation (efficiency and flexibility), where users are left in control, yet the organization can still provide support for the vagaries of customer interaction (see “Customers and Business Processes – Difficult Domains to Integrate” on page 2 of the papers available on the BPM Focus web site for more detail there).

I attended a few other sessions, but found new insights a bit few and far between (for me that is, too educated I guess). I only caught the last third of the opening keynote (I was told I didnt miss much earlier), and found myself taking notes (as much as anything on the language used and the phraseology for concepts). I sat through an entire session on Customer Interaction and BPM (which I felt missed the mark entirely … but still managed to salvage a few points here and there). I enjoyed Dan Roam’s session (keynote on day 2) on modeling on the back of a napkin (using simple rich pictures to communicate). I felt that the session on BPM and SaaS (Michelle Cantara) didn’t go far enough (stopping well short of talking about the implications of the cloud on the way work will happen in the future). But there were other sessions on that (competed with my modeling session), so no doubt they got more into that aspect then.

The Vendor Showroom floor was the usual zoo – with people wandering on and off stands or generally ignoring the vendors while they consumed their deserts or coffee. This format just doesnt work for either the vendors or the delegates who want information on what the products really do. Contrast that with the BPM Technology Showcase we are running on October 14-16 in DC. The last one of those in Nashville was a roaring success as people got up close and personal with what the technology can really do for you.

Otherwise, I seemed to be either signing books or getting button-holed by folks in the hallway.

Busy Busy Busy … Books On The Way

July 31, 2008

Another litany of excuses. Anyone who has looked at this blog over the last year or so will see the very poor track record I have established in terms of keeping it up to date. The reason – just not enough hours in the day. But that is probably true of all bloggers, but I wonder how many of them have been pushing the development of two books, along side a full schedule of training and consulting activities. Right now I am supposed to be outside on holiday with my family, but instead I am deep into the last push to finalize the content for the forthcoming BPMN Modeling and Reference Guide.

This has been a mamoth effort over the last few months involving detailed collaboration with Stephen White, the main author of the BPMN specification. We have done our best to make it as readable and accessible as possible, separating out the detailed reference section from a piece about modeling in general (everything from history of BPMN, why/how to model, etc).

There is also an extended scenario based introduction to BPMN functionality, bringing in new BPMN functionality in the context of an easily understood business problem. Throughout the section, the business scenario is elaborated upon and the corresponding models and BPMN functionality explained. Through our training courses, we have found that people learn far better this way.

Of course, there is a detailed explanation of all BPMN functionality. And for most, who are actively involved in modeling, this reference material is sorely needed. For the layman, the specification is somewhat hard to follow (and that is being kind). In the book, we explore each area of functionality and provide a detailed explanation for its use, and behavior.

The BPMN Modeling and Reference Guide will be launched at the Gartner BPM Summit in Washington DC.I am doing a session on BPM and Modeling and another on Developing Appropriate Process Architecures. Neither of these sessions are designed for beginners (although the modeling session should be pretty acessible.

Incidentally, I notice that I am the only non-Gartner BPM Analyst/Comentator presenting at the conference this time around – seems that the same old, same old’s have finally been found out ;-).

Book 2

My other book, that has been in devleopment for the last 5 years or so is in the later stages of finalization. Mastering BPM has been an evolving piece that will probably hit the presses in a similar time frame. I still have a chapter to write, but it is just about there.

Of course, all of this book development work takes cycles out of the day and impacts the ability to execute on other things. Anyway … I hope to get into a more regular pattern of blog postings and updates by the end of next month.

BPM Technology Showcase and Awards – An Opportunity to Save Hundreds of Hours and Thousands Of Dollars

February 12, 2008

Well after a lot of hard work the event is now fully fleshed out. Of course there are a million and one things to get done to organize a major event – and I am still getting through them.

But we have a full program of really interesting vendors (IMNSHO). They cover a range of different themes that regular readers will recognize. This is a real opportunity for people involved in BPM projects to save hundreds of hours and many thousands of dollars by assessing all the best vendors in one place, picking up on the best practices, pitfalls and other implementation wrinkles.

In no particular order they are:

BPM and SaaS – Appian, Integrify, Itensil, Lombardi (Blueprint) … I am not sure whether I should put Cordys, and Fujitsu in that category (since apparently they can do this combination but haven’t made a big noise about it).

Case Handling – Cordys, Graham Technology, Itensil, Pallas Athena, Pega

Complex Customer Interaction – Graham Technology, Pega

Knowledge Workers – Appian, HandySoft and Itensil

Microsoft and .NET – Ascentn, Bluespring Software and BizAgi

BPM-SOA Stack – BEA, Fujitsu and TIBCO

Unified Data Model – BizAgi, Pega

They all have something special about them – they are all becoming more and more “model driven” (some are better than others), they all feature mechanisms to monitor and track work. Here is the complete list along with links to their web sites.

AppianAscentnBEABizAgiBluespring SoftwareCordysGraham TechnologyHandySoftIntegrify ItensilFujitsuLombardiPallas AthenaPegaTIBCO

That’s 15 vendors, each delivering 4 sessions – one in the morning and one in the afternoon on each of the core showcase days (Tuesday and Wednesday). The Showcase itself is capped off with a simulated product bake-off where each vendor demonstrates how they have built out one or other of the two core scenarios we will provide them with.

I intend to create short 5-minute videos of each vendor, featuring their best points and place them on YouTube with links to their product profile – which I will endeavor to get up on the BPMF site within a few weeks of the event (but I am traveling for the month of March so it might not be till mid-April before that happens.

Oh – and lets not forget the Monday when you will hear a keynote from Connie Moore (of Forrester), followed by three new case studies (the best submissions from the Awards program – Wells Fargo, Geisinger Health and Louisiana Supreme Court), the three inclusive ½ day training courses:

  • Ensuring BPM Project Success – from me
  • Modeling in BPMN – from Stephen White of IBM (the main author of the BPMN specification)
  • BPM Overview from the WfMC

And all of this is available for the killer price of just $395 (up until close of business this Friday … after that it reverts to $595). Just to put that price in perspective, that’s less than you would pay a traditional conference for their pre-conference workshop !! We have deliberately kept the prices low so that you can bring the team – to form a shared understanding of the issues and the way ahead (and it’s impossible to get around all 15 vendors in the 12 sessions that you will have time to attend).
You can get directly to the registration page here

Download the brochure here