BPM Milan: Applying Patterns During Business Process Modeling

Thomas Gschwind of IBM Research Zurich presented a paper on applying patterns during process modeling, co-authored by Jana Koehler and Janette Wong. This research was motivated by their customer’s concern for the quality of process models, and their first prototype using IBM WebSphere Business Modeler shows that 10% of the modeling time can be saved, which corresponds to about 70% of the pure editing time.

There are well-known basic workflow patterns, such as splitting and merging, but these are too fine-grained in many cases, and they were looking for pattern compounds that could be easily reused. He walked us through three pattern application scenarios, showing both the process flow and the process structure tree:

  • Compound patterns, including sequence (a set of steps in a fixed order), alternative compound (split and merge several alternative paths), parallel compound (split and merge several paths in parallel), and cyclic compound (loop). This represents the four most common of the basic workflow patterns, which is obviously just a starting point.
  • Gateway-guarded branches, which support the creation of unstructured models such as routing across the branches in a parallel split, including an alternative branch model pattern and parallel branch pattern. This can cause problems with the process if not used properly, although there are some constraints such as not allowing the parallel branch to flow backwards.
  • Closing a set of edges with a gateway, which is not always possible and is only implemented for some special cases.

He gave a live demo of creating a mortgage approval process using these patterns: he dragged a number of pre-defined tasks onto the workspace, then used a auto-linking functionality to create a basic process flow based on (I assume) the spatial orientation of the tasks. Changing a split gateway using the transformations also changed the merge gateway to the matching type. A wizard-type dialog prompts for some parameters about a set of activities, then generated the process map to match. He applied compound patterns and gateway-guarded patterns at points in the process.

This definitely reduced some of the effort in the process map drawing, and allowed users to create unstructured as well as structured processes. It’s available as a plugin for WebSphere Business Modeler, and is part of a comprehensive library of patterns, transformations and refactoring operations.

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