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.


Case Handling Discussion

December 16, 2007

Mea Culpa – yes, like others in this space, the challenge is keeping the blog going. Usual story of not managing to keep the clones working properly while I am sleeping. Lots of things to start sharing here … and now that I am out from under the endless train of deliverables and trainign courses, I should be able to find the odd bit of time.

The reason for this long awaited posting … I felt I wanted to pick up on discussions emerging in the BPM space – driven by Henk de Man’s presentation at the OMG meeting last week. He was talking to the need for better modeling approaches to support Case Handling (or Case Management depending on your perspective).

Like James Taylor (name now corrected),  I thought Henk’s presentation was also interesting. And as I pointed out during the session, a great many processes should be viewed in the Case Handling context. Readers might also be interested in the papers I produced that discuss these sorts of issues. But really getting at it from the pov of the Customer and Processes – “Business Processes and Customers – Difficult Domains to Integrate” available in the White Papers section of the BPM Focus web site.

The core of Henk’s presentation was that BPMN style modeling is not much help when trying to capture the essence of Case Handling. His own product has a strong Case Handling orientation and uses “States” and “Events” to enable some of the flexibility that Case Handling apps demand. In my experience, the key differentiating factor (between a tranditional workflow/BPMS app and Case Handling) is that the emphasis is with Case – it may have many processes and documents associated with it.

I suggested to him that he investigate Role Activity Diagrams (a way of modeling at how the Roles involved change state as a result of the actions and interactions that occur). This is perhaps much more appropriate for the state based view he was hankering after. The best reference on this is Martyn Ould’s book “Business Process Management – A Rigorous Approach”

But all should understand that Case Handling approaches have been around for a very long time. They are everywhere you look once you get it in your head. Think of these:

  • Government – State and local government, NGOs, Police, Justice (investigations), Land mgt …
  • Financial Services
  • Insurance – Every claim is an exception
  • Banking – Trade exception handling, premium account management
  • Healthcare – From clinical provision to administrative management and payment
  • Oil & Gas Exploration- Knowledge workers spread thinlyaround the world
  • Pharmaceuticals – Clinical trials, compound development, marketing campaign management
  • Virtually all “professions
  • Wide range of Small to Medium sized contexts
  • All sort of Procurement situations
  • Customer Contact Centers – across virtually all industries, where they validate, identify work items and then resolve … here 80% of all calls are WISMO (What Is the Status of My Order)
  • Even the weekly Staff Meeting is a kind of case handling situation if you look at it from a process point of view.

All of them have continually unfolding, evolving scenarios. That is where BPM needs to concentrate its efforts. The transactional space that has characterised efforts to date is really pretty straight forward. Case Handling involves synchronous interaction with users, long running case resolution situations, multiple process fragments, knowledge work, …

Interesting vendors in this space are few and far between. At one level it is big systems implementations such as Cordys, Pega and Graham Technology. But there is a simpler more accessible level that is best characterised by folks like Itensil (in my mind one of the most itneresting I have come across). I am sure, that with care you could implement TIBCO, Appian and Lombardi to build effective Case Handling situations, but it is really a quesiton of adopting the right style of design thinking. And with more and more of these vendors offering SaaS delivery mechanisms, I think we are going to see an ever increasing level of innovation in this area.


Doesn’t time fly

June 9, 2007

Well it seems only 5 minutes ago that I was apologizing for my clone management interface not working properly, and here I am just two weeks since the last posting (looking out at a wet and windy Sydney harbor).

Yesterday I finished the first Southern Hemisphere BPM Focus Workshop – the Process Modeling Fundamentals course went down fairly well, and it was good to see a different perspective on BPM. As usual with these things, I discover a new crop of BPMN modeling tools vendors that I didnt know anything about (I suppose I should pay more attention to the BPMN Supporters page as the vendor I had in mind is mentioned there.

One aspect of the Process Modeling fundamentals course that is usually overlooked by folks signing up for the course is the second modeling notation we teach – Role Activity Diagrams. It has become quite apparent that this technique is where delegates get a lot of value. Incorrectly, people assume that BPMN is also associated with a specific methodology – BPMN is method agnostic and is perhaps most relevant when you are looking at the implementation journey of business process. It is less useful for the upstream activity of discovery and understanding of processes. That is where RADs really excel – they are really useful for understanding a given domain and putting a particular issue under the microscope.

What is starting to emerge from these courses is that folks who already think they know process (i.e. IT indoctrinated people) struggle to get their head around RADs, whereas people from the business domain (end users) who have only a superficial understanding of process glom onto it (RADs) immediately. Otoh, the very same people struggle with BPMN – regarding it as just too hard to get their heads around.

With luck, we will soon have a mapping from RADs back to BPDM and along with wider support for BPMN-BPDM, that will provide an effective translation between the two modeling paradigms.

For those of you interested in when-where the next courses will take place – we are still in planning mode there, so now is your time to influence us on location and timing (send me an email directly to miers @ bpmfocus.org).


Getting the BPM Message Across

April 27, 2007

Many in business people still struggle to see the role of business process in building better performance (i.e. business results). So I thought I would share this little hook that I developed within one of my consulting engagements. It is based around preparing bread – the components of the bread, the flour, the yeast, the water and then baking it all together for an effective result. In your business it is the dough rising that equates to achieving its performance objectives … however those performance objectives are defined.

Whether aware of it or not, in most businesses the different ingredients are not well aligned or working together as well as they could be. Mixing the metaphors for a moment, they are not rowing together in a coordinated fashion. Business Process Management brings together a range of techniques and approaches—the BPM tool box. The components of this tool box help change agents in the business (the bakers) create their own special sort of dough. At the heart of that is an ongoing enquiry into business processes—if you like the water that binds the flour (your people), with the yeast (the technology).

There may be other subtle ingredients. But cooking is not only about mixing the right quantity of ingredients; it is also how you mix them, and how long you bake the mixture. You might think it is just a question of getting the right measure of ingredients. But first, it is necessary to decide on the sort of bread you want to make, and how it is going to be delivered, to whom. Alongside the choice of people (flour), the most critical element is the water (processes)—the ingredient that binds it all together.

Relatively speaking, adding the technology is the easy part. But it requires a considerable amount of rigor. This rigor is most apparent in the way we understand and model processes—because in the modern BPM technology, it is these models that drive how work is managed and driven through the business. If we want to change the way the business operates, all we then need do is change the models. No programming should be required (or at least only in very specialized cases). As much as is possible, everything is configured with models.

But to develop these models requires a rigorous approach and methodology—one that allows us to bind together (integrate) the people, processes and technology. The problem is that process models are like a bikini—what they reveal is suggestive. But what they hide is vital. (Paraphrasing Levenstein talking about statistics).

This is the central thesis of the BPM Process Modeling Fundamentals training course we have developed within BPM Focus. It not only features the very latest developments in BPMN (developed in collaboration with Stephen White, the main author of the BPMN standard), it also includes complementary techniques that help people really see their processes from a number of different angles. The next iteration of the course is due for delivery in London next week (May 1st and 2nd), then in Washington DC on May 24th-25th and Sydney on June 7th-8th. We are also delivering the course inhouse to a number of corporate clients. It should also be available on-line soon.

It is complemented by another program Ensuring BPM Project Success, which is oriented toward ensuring that BPM Programs are rooted in the organization appropriately (due to run in Washington DC on May 21st and Sydney on June 12th-13th). You could think of this second program as being designed to help you set up to guarantee success in BPM projects (or how to avoid getting egg on your face). It is designed to cure you of the legacy thinking that created the existing mess and provides an actionable methodology and framework for BPM success.


It Has Been A While – BPM Training, New Site

January 26, 2007

I know it has been the best part of a couple of months since I posted anything … but it is all to do with the pressures of work and the need for a holiday. But now back into the swing of things and you should at least see a posting from me every week.

One thing I did want to let you know about was out upcoming training schedule for BPM Focus. The BPMF Learning Framework is continuing its onward development (now incorporating two key courses – “Starting Out and Rolling Out BPM Programs” and “Advanced Process Modeling.”

Starting Out and Rolling Out BPM Programs is really focused around ensuring that projects are appropriately set up and managed. The December session was very successful and we expect torun further events across the US and Europe over the coming year. The next public courses at this level will be March 21-22 in San Francisco and April 18-19 in London.

Advanced Proced Modeling – this is a new course developed in conjunction with the best in the business – the main original author of the BPMN spec (cant say who until we complete the negotiations with his employer); and Martyn Ould (the grandfather of one of my favourite techniques – Role Activity Diagrams). APM will give you all you need to know about BPMN, RADs and Business Capability modeling. It will be available online by mid-year. The first instructor led versions of this training are scheduled to be Santa Monica (April 2nd and 3rd) and in London on May 1st and 2nd). A full schedule of events will be available on the BPMF web site.

And talking of web sites, we have been developing a new site, which should go live in the next week or so … these things always seem to take longer than you expect. This new site will shortly include a BPMM self assessment tool, user log-in … to come is a wide variety of new services and content that registered users will have access to.

In the short term, if you are interested in the training, please contact me directly (miers @ bpmfocus.org).

Till next time – Derek