Home > BPM, Fujitsu Interstage > Covering all sides of the BPMN Debate

Covering all sides of the BPMN Debate

There has been a vigorous debate of the role of BPMN.  These posts are relevant:

The discussion boils down to one thing: is BPMN the best choice for a business professional?

The BPM community has been developing BPMN for a number of years.  If you want to represent your process as a flowchart, then is seems that BPMN would be the best way to do this.  BPMN is kind of like a dictionary but instead of providing words, it provides shapes that can be used to express certain ideas on a flowchart.

Interstage BPM Supports BPMN

With Interstage BPM, if you wish to use BPMN as you only representation of the process, then this is possible.  BPMN can be used in the standalone studio modeling environment, in the on-line collaborative modeling environment, and in the run-time execution environment.  Through all of these various environment, the product assures a single consistent underlying model, without requiring any transformations along the way.

However, we have found that many business professionals are not comfortable with designing and using a flowchart approach, and we don’t force this on them.  The studio has two “perspectives”:  Business User and Power User.  You can use either one you are comfortable with, and you can switch back and forth at any time.

The business user perspective shows the process as a list of tasks, using an outline organization to display nested tasks.  We have found this approach to be much more comfortable with users who want to focus on the tasks to be done, and less on the automation of them.  The business user is not forced to use this, they can switch to power user mode at any time and get the full BPMN support.  But they often don’t want to; it is something about the flowchart formalism that gets in the way of thinking about the tasks.

The standard pattern we see is business users sketching up the process as a list of tasks.  Then later, it may be switched to BPMN view for more detailed automation tasks.  Offering both perspectives is a distinct advantage over just offering BPMN.

Switching Between Alternatives

To let you know what this might look like, here is a simple process generated in business user perspective:

(Image is supposed to display here, and wordpress is having some difficulty with it, so if you don’t see an image use this link)

This is quite comfortable for business users.  If you, though, you can switch to power user perspective on this same process, and see it displayes as this:

(Image is supposed to display here, and wordpress is having some difficulty with it, so if you don’t see an image use this link)

It is the same process — but displayed in two different representations.

Shouldn’t We Just Have One Perspective?

Some will argue that if you train the whole organization well enough, you could use a single notation.  That is a good theory, but it does not reflect the realities of the jobs that people must perform. Go back and compare the two different representations, and you will see that they each emphasis different aspects of the process.  The business user approach can visually represent the time dimension, and the duration that different tasks are expected to take.  The BPMN diagram can not represent that, but it can represent more complex sequencing logic.

The idea that there should be one single representation is an oversimplification.  Clearly, if an organization wants to do this, and wants everyone to use BPMN, then they certainly can with Interstage BPM.  But you also have the choice to use the representation that fits the audience best.

Where is the controversy?

Jim Sinur made a blog point pointing out that BPMN is too complex for regular business professionals, and that they are preferring to use other formalisms.  Strong BPMS vendors and providing multiple formalisms for user.  At Fujitsu, we have to agree.  This does not seem so controversial, but be sure to read all the posts and note how some people seem to find this controversial.

Categories: BPM, Fujitsu Interstage
  1. September 7, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Hi Keith, I’m late to this debate (vacation intervened), but that gave me the necessary perspective for the wrapup post, thanks for linking.

    I agree that a simple task list is often what business users start with if they are focused on a specific step, but if they’re looking at a regulated process of some sort, they will soon start to model dependencies between tasks. You show that above (in Interstage BPM) as a simplified Gantt chart or as a BPMN model, although there are obviously some differences: in your Gantt representation, dependencies are only implied in the diagram, not explicit, whereas the reality is often a bit more complex. In my experience, as soon as business people start to think about time dependencies between tasks, they tend to move towards more of a flowchart representation rather than a simple task list. If they are looking at a non-regulated/non-structured process, then obviously this changes: a list of tasks to complete (dare I say, as part of a case) may be completely unordered, with some of these optional based on the circumstances. Even in those situations, however, I often see structured process snippets that need to be included as part of that unstructured task environment.

    By the way, I remember a time in the early days of desktop project management tools when Gantt charts were considered too complex for business people and unnecessary for them to learn. Funny that we’re having the exact conversation now about BPMN, and using Gantt charts as an example of the simplified process representation that everyone understands.

    P.S. Can we have full feeds for this blog, please? Also, a working comments feed?

  2. September 7, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    I have a longer post coming on the other blog … probably not until later this afternoon. What I will touch on there is that there is an audience for BPMN among a group I will call “BPM fans” which includes most of the people discussing these topics. Among BPM fans it is common to progress from list to flowchart. BUT, I believe there is a large audience who are not BPM fans, who do not want a flowchart, do not need a flow chart, and for them the list by itself will be sufficient for the final product, and not a temporary step in the progress.

    Good point, this discussion of Gantt charts is quite ironic.

  3. November 13, 2011 at 10:59 am

    Slightly updated perspective reemphasizing how business people don’t and will never use BPMN. http://social-biz.org/2011/11/12/by-the-case-managers-themselves/

  1. September 11, 2010 at 4:35 pm

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