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Archive for November, 2008

Human Process Management is the Key to Driving Higher BPM Business Value

Monday, November 10th, 2008

I was reading the latest Forrester BPM report on eBizQ and found it to be quite an interesting  read - especially for the endorsement it seemed to give human process management as a required extension to BPM - without actually naming it as such. That was my only quarrel with the authors - they expect BPM suites to be extended to handle unstructured, ad-hoc, chaotic (their term) human processes. That makes it sound like handling those types of process is just a small feature of an BPMS, a small extension that BPM suites should add. In my experience that isn’t the case - building an system to manage these types of human processes is  no trivial task, and don’t expect BPM vendors to be able to do it - it just requires a different type of thinking -especially since to get people to adopt it you need to unseat an entrenched “competitor” - email.  Here are some of the quotes that relate directly to human process management:

  • in real life, processes change all the time; in fact, our interviews consistently show that processes never stop changing

  • The outcome of a discounting decision may be captured in the BPMS by integrating or embedding a business rules engine, but the way the decision was made — the reason for the discount — is often recorded in an obscure email thread, if at all.”

  • “But many real-world, people intensive processes are so rife with exceptions that it’s impossible to model all the permutations in a traditional process modeling tool. These ad hoc, chaotic processes are difficult to support even using today’s BPMS tools”

OK -so even for the most structured processes in an organization - the ones that have actually been implemented via a BPMS - even those processes are constantly in flux - which means that almost always the users are going to need to morph and change the process before the IT department can reprogram system - no matter how good the tools are. So how is this actually handled in the real world? - no surprise here, it is done via email. These above quotes from the paper make it clear that no matter how well designed the process implementation is - it can’t anticipate every nuance of the process, or every new context - there will always be the need for a tool that allows end users the flexibility to handle the ever changing requirements and demands of real life business processes without IT involvement - while still allowing for management, monitoring and optimizing. Email provides the flexibility, and HPMS built on top of email - provides the rest. If not - BPM initiatives will bring only limited business value.

So in short - even for companies embarking on enterprise BPMS - remember H comes shortly after B, and you’ll need a good HPMS to round out your BPMS.

Models and Pasta

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

I was reading various posts about modeling (in the BPMN sense) and it seems to me that many of them are confusing the ability to use modeling tools to codify requirements, and the use of modeling tools to actually generate the code needed to execute the process. 

I remember that we started thinking about model driven development over 10 years ago at IBM Research. If you could only let the business analyst model the process - and then generate the actual executable from that model - what a jump in productivity and agility. It was even worked with various toy examples. The difficulty is that designing a detailed enough model of a process to generate an actual executable program required the same effort (if not more) and the same set of skills that you needed to develop the program to implement the process.  So in reality the model became a spec or requirements doc for the developers. You could imagine these models being a good way to implement agile programming for BPM - where the analysts and developers use those tools as part of an iterative development process - but alas most of their usage is closer to waterfall development than iterative development.

Take a look at the  real life BPEL diagram shown in the drool’s blog - it made the process description the worst kind of unmanagable spaghetti. Even with all the complexity shown, it isn’t even close to the most complex business process you can find out there - whether it is a human process or a business process.

So are BPMN and BPEL a step forward or backward in enterprise application development? I think they are a good way to collect initial, high-level requirements (BPMN) and as a machine readable, system independent language for business models (BPEL). Lets not fool ourselves though, as with any tool for collecting requirements - it ends being a recommendation to the developers - not a production code generator. That is unless you limit the process domain being modeled to processes that consist of a small set of simple, well-defined, recurring, easily tailorable task templates - with relatively simple control flow logic between the tasks.