The Gantt Chart Strikes Back

Scott Francis
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Dave Brakoniecki has a great post over on his blog about BP Logix and their idea of treating Time as a “new” dimension in BPM:

The article explains the time dimension in the following terms:

“BPM solutions have focused on getting the quality and governance of business processes. But time is a critical element of the planning, management and improvement of business processes. Time allows business users to gain additional control over their processes and creates the opportunity to predict how later stages in the process will be affected by changes introduced in the earlier stages.”

And then Dave chimes in:

I don’t know any BPM customers or clients that aren’t worried about the elapsed time, cycle time and throughput of their processes.

In fact, most customers usually conflate time and quality in a dangerous manner — mistaking the concept of efficiency with effectiveness. I also think that managing time is something that all BPMS vendors tackle — with various approaches and various degrees of success.

But then Dave shows how similar their “Time Dimension” view looks to IBM BPM 8.5’s Gantt-chart view introduced earlier this year.  David focuses on the idea that this shows the market is converging (it sort of does), but what I couldn’t help but focus on was this bit from BP Logix:

To support this new predictive concept, BP Logix has introduced a patented technology that fuses project management methodologies with BPM, called Process Timelines.

It sounds like IBM and BP Logix need to have a conversation about who has what patented. I’m guessing the Gantt chart is already covered by prior art.

In a very real sense, products like IBM BPM and BP Logix have so many features baked in that analysts like Bloor may not even know about them – and may not have the domain expertise to challenge what a vendor is telling them (or to report what is being told accurately).

Still, I think that the underlying trend from these two vendors is toward more views against the process definition.  The different views need to be consistent, based on an underlying model, but they allow the users to focus on the right aspects of the model for the context of what they’re trying to do or decide or affect. A Gantt chart view of the process is another useful concept in BPM tooling.

Check out Dave’s blog for the pictures side-by-side.

 

 

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  • E. Scott Menter

    Hi Scott. IBM did indeed introduce a feature that, on the surface, resembles Process Timeline’s Gantt-style process view. (We take it as a compliment. :) But IBM is really just offering a retrospective view of one or more process instances–basically, a run-time report presented as a Gantt chart.
    Process Timeline, on the other hand, is the actual model (not just a view) used to create, execute, and monitor a process. It’s a completely different way to think about how to implement highly parallel, time sensitive, or complex processes. There are any number of benefits to this approach, not least of which is the resultant ability to automatically predict the timeliness of future activities that have not yet started. Based on constant re-evaluation of the status of every process instance, Process Director can take action whenever a future activity is predicted to be late, for example, by sending a notification or rerouting an approval.
    One thing it looks like we all agree on, though, is that the evolution of BPM is continuing in the direction of providing more information–and therefore more value–to the end user.

    • Scott – it would be easy to assume that the IBM BPM gantt chart is only a view of the past, but it is combined with features around “timeline” that have been there all along – like modeling expected duration of activities, even a distribution (normal, flat, etc.) for a range of times. Once historical data is present, the historical data can be used to model future expectations for process completion…

      So, for IBM, all that was needed was adding a gantt chart view… the other pieces were already there since about 2006, when it was just Lombardi (predictive completion, distribution curve, etc. )

      I’m not saying every detail is the same – and BP Logix may have a better implementation of the idea than IBM BPM (I don’t know BP Logix to make an assertion either way). One significant difference is that you don’t use a gantt chart view to *build* the model in IBM BPM. But the concept and even an implementation aren’t shockingly new to those of us that have been in the Lombardi/IBM ecosystem. Of course, I’m not a “someone else did it first” apologist- there’s value in the remix, in the new take on an old or existing idea, and in mixing in new concepts, techniques, and technologies. And there’s lots of room for innovation in the space as well – as BP Logix is demonstrating by focusing on a different metaphor as the primary view.

      • E. Scott Menter

        Hi Scott. Ah, but the key is, indeed, in building the process using the Timeline model. This is more than a cosmetic difference. The IBM technology offers some nice metrics (perhaps even, as you suggest, some predictive metrics) about process instances, but Process Timeline is a whole new way to think about BPM. I don’t mean that as an advertisement; it’s just that it’s so easy for a Microsoft or an Oracle or an IBM to muddy the waters, once in a while it’s nice to have an opportunity to draw some distinctions. Thanks for the opportunity. :)

      • if authoring in a gantt chart makes all the difference, that doesn’t come through yet in the publicly available information. Not saying it doesn’t make the difference, just that for non-experts in your product, it isn’t clear (yet). The differentiation challenge isn’t easy – even if you differentiate in fact, it is hard to make it obvious to others how and to what benefit.

      • The idea of building the process using the TimeLine model sounds interesting and, in many ways, I think that its the opposite of what IBM in trying to do.

        Creating the Gantt chart view in the last release of IBM BPM moved the time based analytics from the design environment to the run-time environment. Previously, all of these capabilities of the Lombardi product were in the simulation section in the development environment but, of course, the end user of this information was never the coders creating the solution, but the managers on the floor.

        Creating the gantt chart view in IBM BPM basically moves the analytics into the production environment — the right place in the product for the business users.

      • E. Scott Menter

        Timeline is most effective when it underpins the entire process, from model to execution. BPM has thoroughly relied on the flowchart model, but there are so many processes that can be represented but poorly (if at all) using a flowchart. Timeline provides the capability to easily describe processes much as one might using MS Project or Excel, while also benefiting from the predictive analytics that arise naturally from such a model.