Architecture & Process: Jaakko Riihinen

Jaakko Riihinen, head of enterprise architecture for Nokia Siemens Networks, spoke about business process architecture: a deep dive into the details of one set of models that they use in their EA efforts. He started with definitions of architecture, process and abstract modeling, reinforcing that a presentation view of a model is just a view, not the entire model. In his definition of architecture, I especially like the analogy that he made of architecture being the external energy that keeps systems within an organization from evolving into chaos. In general, architectures tend to satisfy nonfunctional requirements, such as optimization of system economics.

One of the issues in modeling processes is the different types of models that may be used in different departments, and the ultimate goal is to have a set of process models for the entire organization rather than having them be constructed piecemeal. He characterizes processes in three types: transactional, creative (team collaboration on work product), and community (dynamic, self-organizing); the modeling method that is the focus of this presentation addresses transactional processes.

He shows three elements of their process architecture:

  • A process integration model, showing the high-level view of how processes and work products interact. This is the functional design of the process architecture.
  • A process behavior model, which is a standard swimlane process model that shows the detailed view of one of the process nodes from the process integration model. It’s different from BPMN in that the work products are shown within the sequence flow rather than attached as artifacts since they are focused on linking the activities closely to what triggers them and what they produce.
  • Work instructions for performing one activity in a process.

Other characteristics of a process are also modeled:

  • Process instantiations, which can be scheduled or event-driven; where event-driven can be based on work product (e.g., inbound document) or an explicit event (e.g., timeout).
  • Execution constraints, either a free-running schedule (activities execute as soon as inputs are available) or an imposed schedule (e.g., periodic reporting)

The process integration model shows the instantiation methods for each process, as well as showing how multiple processes can provide input to another process in a variety of ways, including both informational and triggering.

All of this provides the notational background to discuss the real issue: normalization of process models and process architecture, using methods derived from classic systems methodologies such as control system theory and critical path analysis. The benefits of normalization include unambiguous definitions that are easier to understand, and better recognition and reuse of process patterns, but the real benefit is that this turns process architecture from an art to a science. There are four basic rules for process architecture normalization:

  • Structural integrity: closing alternative paths within parallel paths, and closing parallel paths within alternative paths (these are basic topology constraints from graph theory, and would be enforced by most process modeling tools anyway)
  • Functional cohesion: no disconnected activities
  • Temporal cohesion: no synchronous processing by activities outside the process (which implies that you would not use the BPMN method of separate pools for separate organizations since messaging between pools would not be allowed, but would consider that separate organization’s activities to be part of the process if your internal process needs to wait for a response from the other organization before continuing the process)
  • Modularity: activities or roles having different cardinalities belong to separate processes (this helps to determine the boundaries between processes, e.g., sets of activities that pertain to the entire company are usually in separate processes from those for individual business units), variance at the process level (when alternative paths in a process become sufficiently complex or encompass most of the process, create two variants of the process), variance at the integration model level, deployment details, process components (subprocesses shared between processes)

Determining the boundaries of a single process may involve combining what are considered to be separate processes into one: we discussed the example of employee onboarding, which involves several departments but is really a single process. Looking at the triggers for activities and processes also helps to determine the boundaries: activities that asynchronously create work products that are consumed by other activities are usually in a separate process, for example, as are activities that are performed on different schedules.

They’re using ARIS, and have configured their own metamodel for the process integration model and behavior model. Riihinen is also interested in developing automated methods for normalizing process models.

His slides are incredibly dense with information, and fascinating, so I suggest that you check them out for more details on all of this. In particular, check out the slides that show examples of the four process normalization rules.

As you can tell by the above URL, the conference is using Slideshare to publish (but not allow downloads of) all presentations here.

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