IIR BPM: Facilitated session on standards

Alec Sharp led a facilitated session on standards that we love, hate, or wish were there (or don’t care about). This is a bit similar to the BPM Think Tank roundtables, but we’re at about six small tables so had a chance for some mini-break-out sessions to discuss ideas, then gather them together.

The notes that came out of this:

  • One group had some general comments about standards, stating that a common language can simplify, but that the alphabet soup of standards is too complicated and IT driven.
  • Another group hates BPMN because they feel that a 200-page specification isn’t understandable by business users, and that BPMN is really for specifying automated process execution but is not for business consumption. It’s stifling and constrains what can be modelled.
  • Standards aren’t written in plain English. There are two sets of standards: methodology standards and tool standards, and we often confuse the two. Once is focussed on human-driven processes, and the other on technology-driven processes. A great analogy: the people coming up with the tools have never baked the cake, or even eaten one.
  • Standards are often misunderstood, both in terms of who they’re for and what they’re for: they’re misinterpreted by marketing types. [I see this a lot with BPEL having become a standard “check box” on BPM RFPs rather than a real requirement.]
  • Standards can seem inflexible.
  • Interchange standards are either insufficient or improperly used by the tools, making it near-impossible to do round-tripping between different tools. They’re intended to use for translation between business and technology domains, but notational standards are possibly becoming less understandable because they are targetted at flowing into interchange standards. [I’m not sure that I agree with this: IT may require that business model in specific forms rather than just allow business to use BPMN in the way that they best fits the organization.]
  • Standards should be discovered, not invented [Vint Cerf, via Michael zur Muehlen], and BPM standards have been mostly invented.
  • In defense of standards, one person noted that the form of a sonnet is one of the most constrained/standardized forms of writing, but that Shakespeare wrote some of his most beautiful works as sonnets.
  • I got in a few comments about the importance of interchange standards, and how round-tripping is one of the primary problems with these standards — or rather their implementation within the BPA and BPM tools.
  • There’s an issue with the priority when adopting standards: is it to empower the business users, or to support IT implementation? If the former, then it will likely work out, but if it’s for the latter, then the business is not going to totally buy in to the standards.
  • The relationship with the business has changed: it used to be treated as a black box, but now has to be more integrated with IT, which means that they have to bite the bullet and start using some of these standards rather than abdicate responsibility for process modelling.

I don’t necessarily agree with all of these points, since this turned into mostly a standards-bashing session, but it was an interesting debate.

4 thoughts on “IIR BPM: Facilitated session on standards”

  1. Sandy

    I thoroughly enjoy reading your views on BPM , your step-by-step account of the events and I really enjoy your sense of humour. Have you ever considered publishing some of your postings in an ebook format. I’d love to share it with customers and as an intro to training sessions.

  2. That was an interesting roundtable. It sounds like the participants are seasoned practitioners. How would you compare these attendees to other conference attendees? It seems like most of the Gartner BPM attendees were in the exploratory phase.

  3. Steve, the participants were pretty mixed at the roundtable, there was a lot of discussion that I didn’t capture from some of the less seasoned ones who were at the conference looking for some answers.

    In general, the attendees struck me as being further along in their BPM projects than Gartner attendees (although I have no scientific evidence to back that up) — I talked with several who had completed their first project and were on to the subsequent ones. I suspect that the BPM tire-kickers would tend to go to Gartner first to hear the analysts opinions about all this, and possibly see this as a more of a forum for interacting with others who have already started. Having a speaking roster full of practitioners helps to attract that, whereas Gartner has a roster mostly of analysts discussing the concepts and market, which will tend to attract people who are just getting started.

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