Apparently BPMN is Too Hard

Scott Francis
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Jim Sinur has thrown in the towel on BPMN in his latest post:
BPMN for business professionals is just not up to a business level of need. Some folks think that BPMN is good enough for IT and it should be good enough for business professionals. I think the former is true, but the latter is way off the mark. BPMN really stands for “Business People May Not…understand” IT professionals can’t really expect business folks to understand cryptic/standard formats when they really want to see a real representation of their processes with desirable icons; not engineering Icons. It’s kind of like someone saying “let them eat cake”. It is this IT arrogance that could sink BPM technologies.
Respectfully, I think Jim is letting the business off the hook.   No need to learn any new skills over there on the business side, just draw something on a napkin and hope it turns into a process.  Just make up any old iconography you want, no problem if no one other than you can understand it (you know, the value of standards is that more than one person or team can understand what is produced).  Don’t bother to learn something that is about 10% harder than standard flowcharting (Bruce Silver has helpfully identified a subset of BPMN that is more appropriate for new-to-BPMN business users). At a time when we’re asking IT to learn new skills and to be more business oriented, is it too much to ask Business to learn new skills to support process improvement?  This isn’t unique to BPM – if the business is going to support ACM, they’re going to have to learn new tools for that as well.  If the full BPMN icon set is too much for someone, use the subset that you understand and like to document your ideas, and make use of annotation.  If someone shows you a diagram with more icons in it that you don’t follow, it should be straight forward to get an explanation or to look up the new notations you aren’t familiar with.  While Jim may not be a fan of standardization of notation – business folks are plenty used to standards of notation (not just in BPMN).  I use BPMN basic diagramming shapes to whiteboard processes for businesses all the time (literally on the whiteboard or in collaborative tools) – and they don’t have any trouble following what’s going on. The problem isn’t that BPMN, as a notation, is too hard. It is that too many people think that BPM starts and stops with BPMN!  There is so much more to managing business processes, and improving them, than BPMN.  By way of comparison, think about search.  Search is a highly technical subject with a very rigorous syntax.  But nearly everyone can take advantage of its more simplistic forms – just typing in a few keywords into a Google search field.  It doesn’t mean that they can’t understand a more complex query string when they see it, nor guess at the meaning of a phrase surrounded by quotes… nor understand the resulting page of search results (the outcome). In fact, if they find their need for search becoming more complex, they can actually endeavor to learn the more advanced forms (domain filtering, exclusion, wildcards, etc). So let’s all agree that there is much that must be done in the world of BPM to address businesses better, but tossing out BPMN and letting business off the hook is hardly the solution.  One need look no further than a tool like IBM’s BPM Blueprint to see that you can ease the business into BPMN style notation by first having them engage in process mapping or value stream mapping.  You don’t have to throw out BPMN to do this.  At the first company I worked for, we used to like to quote a line from a business book: “Genius of the ‘And'” – as in, why can’t I have both a simpler mapping notation, and a more detailed process execution notation that make sense together – instead of only one or the other? It is time for everyone to step up to the plate in BPM, not just the software vendors.  BPMN is part of the answer, but only part.


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