Integrating BPM and Enterprise Architecture

Michael zur Muehlen presented this morning on integrating BPM and enterprise architecture, based on work that he’s done with the US Department of Defense. Although they use the DoDAF architecture framework in particular, the concepts are applicable to other similar EA frameworks. Like the Zachman framework, DoDAF prescribes the perspectives that are required, but doesn’t specify the artifacts (models) required for each of those perspectives; this is particularly problematic in DoD EA initiatives where there are likely to be many contractors and subcontractors involved, all of whom may use different model types to represent the same EA perspective.

He talked briefly about what makes a good model: the information must be correct, relevant (and complete) and economical (with respect to level of detail), as well as clear, comparable (linked to reality) and systematic. From there, he moved on to their selection of BPMN as the dominant standard for process modeling, since it has better event handling than UML activity diagrams, better organizational modeling than IDEF0, and better cross-organizational modeling than simple flowcharts. However, many tools support only a subset of BPMN – particularly those intended for process execution rather than just process modeling – and some tools have non-standard enhancements to BPMN that inhibit interoperability. Another issue is that the BPMN specification is enormous, with over 100 elements, with some different constructs that mean the same thing, such as explicit versus implicit gateways.

They set out to design primitives for the use of BPMN: where they “outlawed” the use of certain symbols such as complex gateways, and developed best practices for BPMN usage. They also mapped the frequency of BPMN symbol usage from internal DoD models, those that Michael sees in his practice as a professor of BPM at Stevens Institute of Technology, as well as samples found on the web, and came up with a distribution of the BPMN elements by frequency of usage. This research led to the creation of the subsets that are now part of the BPMN standard, as well as usage guidelines for BPMN in terms of both primitives and patterns.

In addition to the BPMN subsets (e.g., the most commonly implemented Descriptive subclass), they developed naming conventions to use within models, driven by the vocabulary related to their domain content. This idea of separating the control of model structure from the vocabulary makes sense: the first is more targeted at an implementer, while the second is targeted at a domain/business expert; this in turn led to vocabulary-driven development, where the relationship between capabilities, activities, resources and performers (CARP analysis) is established as a starting point for the labels used in process models, data models (or ontologies/taxonomies), security models and more as the enterprise architecture artifacts are built out.

Having defined how to draw the right models and how to select the right words to put in the models, they looked at different levels of models to be used for different purposes: models focused on milestones, handoffs, decisions and procedures. These are not just more detailed versions of the same, but rather different views on the process. The milestones view is a high-level view of the major process phases; handoffs looks at transitions between lanes with all activities with a lane rolled up to single activity, primarily showing the happy path; decisions look at major decision points and exception/escalation paths; and procedures showing a full requirements-level view of the process, i.e., the greatest level of detail that a business analyst is likely to create before involving technical resources to add things such as service calls.

To finish up, he tied this back to the six measures of model quality and how this approach based on primitives conforms to these measures. They’ve achieved a number of benefits, including minimizing modeling errors, ensuring that models are clear and consistent, and ensuring that the models can be converted to an executable form. I’m seeing an increased interest with my clients and in the marketplace on how BPM and EA can work together, so this was a great example of how one large organization manages to do it.

Michael posted earlier this year on the DoDAF subset of BPMN (in response to a review that I wrote of a BPMN update presentation by Robert Shapiro). If we go back a couple of years before that, there was quite a dust-up in the BPMN community when Michael first published the usage distribution statistics – definitely worth following the links to see where all this came from.

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