Human Interaction Management and other process modelling notations

The latest BPTrends newsletter pointed to a case study on Human Interaction Management by Keith Harrison-Broninski which, unfortunately, didn’t do a lot towards explaining the benefits of HIM. It’s a bit like any sort of process modelling that uses swimlanes, except that the swimlanes are boxes rather than lanes, so the topology of the process is quite different that the left-to-right flow that we’re used to in most process modelling notations. He uses, as justification for HIM, the following anecdotal evidence:

The person responsible for re-engineering this process spent several months drawing up process documents which no-one used, and struggled even to understand, before turning to the techniques of Human Interaction Management, and finding that everything they had written so far, and more, could be expressed in a single 1-page diagram — further, a diagram that elucidated the processes concerned so clearly that all parties involved were able to agree on a re-engineered version within 2 meetings.

Doesn’t that just support the argument that a simpler process modelling diagram is easier to communicate than a complex one, without necessarily saying that the simpler diagram needs to be HIM? I believe that it’s possible in many modelling notations to create simpler diagrams that are more appropriate for a widely-varied audience through various levels of abstraction. HIM diagrams tend to cram a lot of information on one page (see the example on page 2 of his article), but I don’t see that it’s any more or less understandable than other process models.

The same issue of BPTrends has an article in which Paul Harmon decries the dichotomy between modelling techniques for human and system processes, in counterpoint to Harrison-Broninski. This is labelled as a “A Response to Harrison-Broninski’s Response to My November 15th BPTrends Email Advisor”, so obviously these guys have been having some heated discourse over this topic for a while. I tend to agree with Harmon (although the name-dropping in the article gets a bit thick), since his reaction to Harrison-Broninski’s article is pretty much the same as mine:

A case study developed by Harrison-Broninski has been posted on BPTrends this month. It contains a RAD diagram of a Business System-Support Process. To my eye, that diagram is just a complex version of a Rummler-Brache swimlane diagram, turned on end. If you reduced it to swimlanes, boxes, and arrows, I think it would make it easier for most business people to understand. Obviously there a lot of subjectivity about what looks simple to whom. All I can tell you is that I’ve worked with lots of business people. Most weren’t interested in automation, and workflow diagrams have always worked just fine.

Earlier in the article, Harmon comments on how a high-level process diagram is usually sufficient in order to communicate with business people for the purposes of reaching a common understanding of the process and identify opportunities for process improvement; in other words, you don’t have to spend months creates a multi-page process diagram that details every last system function before you reach consensus on the direction to take. And, he believes that BPMN is the sort of simple, standard notation that can be understood and used by business people while still providing the power to model more complex lower levels of the process at a later point.

This holy war on process modelling notations puts me in mind of a project that I was involved in a couple of years ago, where I was doing the user requirements and functional specifications for a BPM system (a typical role for me on a project). A large SI was also heavily involved in the project for some mainframe integration portions, and when I said that I’d be doing process maps as part of my work, a project manager from the SI immediately jumped on me about notation, asking what notation that I’d be using, and listing off everything from UML activity diagrams to use cases to more exotic modelling techniques usually associated with software design rather than communicating ideas with business people. I said that I’d be doing a simple flowchart notation in order to make it more understandable to the business people, and she looked at me like I had just grown a second head (I get that look a lot). To her, modelling was part of the dark arts that were intended to be used and understood only by the technical wizards, and she never really came close to understanding why I would want to create high-level diagrams that fit on one or two pages, and are intended to be understood by all the stakeholders.

Whether you use HIM, BPMN or any other notation, there’s a key lesson in all this: the business people don’t care about multi-page, overly-detailed view of the process. You need to create the high-level views for communicating with all stakeholders, then drill down to the lower levels during detailed design and implementation as required.

If you’re interested in more information on HIM, there’s a good HIM info site (and a related product site) and an article by Peter Fingar. There’s also some information on linkages between HIM and Martin Ould’s RIVA methodology in Ould’s book. I’ve talked about BPMN many times before on this blog if you’re looking for more information and links on it.

Process isn’t going away

Tom Davenport posted last week about how process isn’t going away, in spite of some arguments against Six Sigma and process management. I couldn’t trace his reference to a specific entry on John Hagel’s blog (Tom, a direct reference to the post in question would be helpful!), but I agree with his assessment of Ross Mayfield’s The End of Process post as “silly”, mostly because Ross’ post assumes that business processes are static and (as Ethan points out in a comment on the post) confuses process and policy.

I especially like Tom’s last paragraphs on the balance between process and practice.

Suites versus best of breed

I found this post about BPM suites versus best of breed to be an interesting take, although misguided. The blog is written by a Fuego systems engineer and as expected, his blog entry espouses the corporate party line of “BPM suites good, best of breed bad”. Every suites vendor will tell you exactly the same thing, and they’re all a bit right and a bit wrong. Yes, there are benefits to having an end-to-end integrated solution: typically, information flows more easily between components, and there’s no finger-pointing when an interface doesn’t work as expected. However, if the suites vendor’s components don’t give you all the functionality that you require, then you really should be looking elsewhere for the specific components.

Apparently an analyst told one of his customers that no BPM suite does it all, and to consider separate modelling, execution and BAM vendors. Good advice, as far as I’m concerned. Personally, I don’t interpret this to mean that the suites vendor should be excluded from the evaluation of all components, it just means that other vendors should be included. It also doesn’t mean that business is yielding their role in the design and management of processes to IT by choosing multiple tools, just that they use different (and equally competent) tools to participate.

Process modelling is a great example. Most BPMS modelling tools don’t allow for the modelling of manual steps, that is, steps that have nothing to do with the automated process, such as opening mail; they also don’t allow for modelling in the larger context of enterprise architecture. Any business that is serious about documenting enterprise architecture and improving their processes has probably already started modelling their processes using something like IDS Scheer’s ARIS Business Architect or Proforma’s ProVision. For a BPMS vendor to assume that a) process is the only thing to be modelled in the enterprise and b) only steps that touch their product are important, is being a bit unrealistic about where BPM fits into enterprise architecture. I’m the first person to step up and state that process is a key part of any organization, but I would never imagine that it’s the only part.

BAM is another example. Again, BPM suites include enough BAM to monitor and report on the processes that are controlled by their execution engine, but have no vision of the larger performance management landscape that exists within an organization. Execution stats from a BPMS are only one source of data that can feed into a broader performance management system: a company does not manage by process alone.

As a final note on the blog post that started my train of thought, I find it interesting (yet unsurprising) that the only component that he doesn’t recommend buying from the BPM suites vendor, a rules engine, is one that Fuego doesn’t sell.

BPM tools and methodologies

The Gartner webinar that I dropped in on yesterday had some interesting points about modelling and methodologies that started me thinking.

First, on methodologies: it’s absolutely essential to have some best practices to lend structure to your BPM project. Don’t do this alone, get the help of someone like me (okay, it doesn’t have to be me) who has actually implemented BPM projects before. Whenever you change a business process, there’s a whole lot more than just technology going on, and you don’t want to get caught in the classic IT trap of believing that the business users will be just as excited about the new technology as you are (remember, they didn’t get to play with the Java code).

There were comments in yesterday’s webinar about how the soft benefits are becoming more significant, including internal factors such as real-time business agility and a process-focussed culture. However, you can’t expect your organization to change because of the introduction of BPM technology; instead, your organization needs to make cultural changes driven by business factors and enabled by the technology.

On modelling tools, I made the statement last month that most people are using Visio to model their business processes before they are implemented in a BPM system, which is true. However, just because it’s true doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to do this. If you use a standard modelling notation such as BPMN or UML activity diagrams, you’ll do fine up to a point with Visio, but somewhere along the way to your “to be” process, you’re going to need a more serious tool for process simulation and the like. If you check out the BPtrends report on modelling tools that I reviewed last week, you’ll see a lot more tools with a lot more power than Visio for your process modelling and analysis. You’re not going to put these on everyone’s desktop, but they are needed for a few analysts who will be doing the in-depth process design.

You want me to pay for what?!

I’ve been putting together some ideas for a presentation at FileNet‘s annual user conference, UserNet, on how to make the link between business process models (such as those that form part of an enterprise architecture set, modelled with a notation such as BPMN) and the implementation of those models in a specific product (in this case, FileNet BPM). I’m interested in exploring the BPMN/BPEL link between modelling and implementation using various products, since it represents the transformation from Zachman’s Row 2 to Row 3; however, for UserNet, where BPEL is not yet in play, I’d choose to focus on the conceptual (business) view of how this works specifically with FileNet BPM.

I’ve spoken at UserNet many times, first as the chief architect of a FileNet partner, then later as FileNet’s Director of eBusiness Evangelism, and I always enjoy it because of the focus on user/business issues instead of just technology, and the interaction with business users of BPM products. But today, as I was looking at the conference dates to make sure that my calendar is clear, I had a flashback to my earlier post on vendors charging exorbitant rates to their “partners” for training. Sure enough, according to the conference presentation guidelines:

One customer presenter per presentation will receive a free registration but they must be the primary speaker. Partner presenters will register for the regular conference fee.

Excuse me, I thought that I just read that FileNet wants me to spend my time creating an educational presentation that will be of benefit to their user community, but then wants me to pay to deliver it.

Just like with the training issue, this cuts out a lot of the highly-skilled smaller partners, because the conference fee on top of a week of lost revenue, travel expenses and the time invested in creating the presentation just isn’t worth it. Instead, count on seeing presentations submitted from partners based on their marketing budgets rather than their abilities.

The attendees should be hoping that the conference selection committee uses a more appropriate assessment tool than a partner’s amount of loose change.

Putting the “business” back in BPM

Yesterday’s article on Coors in Intelligent Enterprise piqued my interest by combining beer and BPM, although I confess that I am highly unlikely to drink an American beer regardless of how efficiently it is delivered.

What I found particularly interesting is the description of how they first approached their BPM efforts, starting in 2000. They have a Director of Business Process Management, who by their own description was “spearheading an IT-led supply chain improvement project, but the team wasn’t collaborating with business users”. Did someone make a mistake about this guy’s title by using the word “business” in it, when he was actually an IT person working on an IT project with little or no business interaction? At the same time, they hired a business architect to do process modelling, but with no coordination with the related IT project.

The story has a happy ending: boy meets girl and they share business process models to great success. However, this same story is playing out in organizations everywhere, and many are far from a happy ending. Due to the inclusion of all manner of application integration and middleware products under the global BPM naming umbrella, many “BPM” projects start as IT-only EAI, with little or no communication with the business side of the organization, and allow IT to seize control of all subsequent BPM projects. BPM products are selected based on IT’s criteria, then “business process management” projects are built purely by IT, with sufficient arrogance to believe that they understand enough about the business that they don’t need interaction with the business units.

These organizations inevitably end up wondering why the success rate of their BPM projects is so low. It’s simple: they need to put the “business” back in BPM.

BPTrends Report on Enterprise Architecture, Process Modeling & Simulation Tools

BPTrends today released The 2005 Enterprise Architecture, Process Modeling & Simulation Tools Report, downloadable for free. They review 10 products:

  • SIMPROCESS from CACI (although I admit to laughing at their overly gung-ho corporate tagline: “Technology that Supports America’s Future”…not something that I’d take forward to one of my non-American customers)
  • Holocentric Modeler from Holocentric
  • ARIS from IDS Scheer
  • iGrafx from iGrafx
  • MEGA Suite from MEGA, an independent business unit of Corel Corporation
  • System Architect from Popkin Software, which was acquired last week by Telelogic
  • ProcessWizard from Process Wizard Ltd.
  • ProVision from Proforma Corporation
  • Process Simulator from ProModel Solutions, although I don’t recommend visiting their site unless you’re into cheesy Flash with music and beeping sound effects
  • xBPM Innovation from xBML Innovations

Like their 2005 BPM Suites Report that I reviewed here, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The first 26 pages contain some great background information including their view of the business process software market (a reasonable representation), plus detailed definitions of enterprise architecture, process modeling and simulation tools, whereas the product sections appear to be technical marketing info provided by vendors. As with the BPM suites report, a caveat at the beginning states that the vendors paid to be part of the report, and that BPTrends did no independent product testing: my same assessment holds true that the product sections, although well organized and well written, don’t provide anything that you couldn’t get from the vendors’ websites.

What I find really interesting about this report is the categorization of enterprise architecture (EA) tools together with process modeling and simulation:

This report focuses on tools that companies use to analyze and modify business processes. The core tool for this task is a tool that lets business managers or analysts create a diagram or model of a business process and then change that diagram to explore how the process could be improved or redesigned.

Tools that provide support for organization analysis and modeling are, today, usually termed Enterprise Architecture tools. Tools that focus entirely on simulation are termed Simulation Tools. Increasingly, however, companies are using business process modeling tools that also incorporate support for enterprise modeling and simulation. Thus, we decided to include all the tools that can be used for Enterprise Architecture, Business Process Modeling, and Process Simulation in the same report.

I have spent a good part of the last few years talking to customers about how EA and process fit together, but a lot of people are still hung up on limiting EA either to content (that is, Zachman’s column 1, Data) or to what I sometimes jokingly refer to as “implementation details” (that is, Zachman’s rows 4 and 5, Technology Model and Detailed Representations). By grouping EA together with process modeling and simulation, BPTrends has highlighted the fact that processes are critical to the enterprise, and any EA exercise had better include processes. Unlike content, which is restricted to the Data column, processes in an enterprise impact several of Zachman’s columns: Function, Network, People and Time. And, unlike the focus of many IT departments, processes in an enterprise are most effectively modeled in the top three of Zachman’s rows: the Scope, Business Model and System Model.

Lots more to write but no time due to a looming deadline and yesterday’s failed router that put my network out of commission for most of the day — just one of the joys of working for myself. Read the report (or at least the first 26 pages) and talk amongst yourselves.