How Big a Role for BPMN?

Scott Francis
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Peter Schooff of ebizQ asks: “How big of a role does BPMN play in today’s projects?” And the responses were interesting to me.  Most of them took the line that BPMN isn’t that important, or that they don’t typically use it.  That someone who fails to understand BPMN will fail to understand the process, just as surely as you might get false agreement in a process by being vague in its description.  My response:
We use BPMN all the time in our projects, but we do a lot of process implementation projects, and it is a good fit for the tooling we use.  Craig makes a good point about someone not understanding BPMN precisely – but at least BPMN has a precise definition – unlike the usual whiteboard drawings. I like to get on the whiteboard and build out the diagram and explain and talk as we do it.  By seeing and hearing the build-out, there’s much less chance of confusion about the interpretation.  And when you’re done, the diagram is actually accurate for someone who reads it “after-the-fact” if they know BPMN. Having said all that, BPMN is a means to an end.  It isn’t the goal, it is a tool.  There are other tools and in the right time-place each one is useful. Whenever there is a standard there’s inevitably a bit of back-lash against the standard from experts – almost as if it is a badge of honor to buck the industry standard.  I say this knowing full well that I’ve done it before myself!  But with experience comes a little wisdom and perspective and I don’t hand out badges of honor for either obeying doctrine or bucking it.  The badges of honor come for delivering great results.
BPMN isn’t perfect.  In fact, to misquote Churchill, it is the worst form of process modeling that has been tried… except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.