Building Business Process Definitions

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I was recently asked how people go about creating Business Process Definitions (BPDs). Since this is a complex question I thought it better to write down the answer rather than try to explain this process over the phone. 

This question reminded me of a discussion with one of my Professors in college. When speaking about “information systems” he explained to the class that while we might immediately think computers, databases, etc. when hearing the term, we needed to understand that something as simple as a filing cabinet is an information system, and for certain needs it may in fact be the best option. Interestingly it seems that technologists (myself included) will often get wrapped up in the tools being used to meet a goal rather than understanding the overall goal. If you step back and understand the goals, then, generally the tools assessment becomes easy.

In the IBM BPM world the specific question is often if people used BlueWorks Live (BWL), Process Designer, or some other tool for creation of BPDs and what approach is the best practice. The real best practice is to first understand the reasons why you want to create a BPD. That answer will tell you what you should be doing.

If your only goal is to capture and articulate your Process in order to understand it, almost any set of tools will likely meet your needs. This may be as simple as a whiteboard and set of markers.

If the capture and articulation your process involves collaboration with others, especially if they are remote, then I would strongly recommend you look at BlueWorks live. This is especially true if you want to fully document the process for others to be able to understand it.

The ability to see and collaborate on Process Diagram changes in real time is great for helping aid in understanding.

Where Process Designer starts to play a role is when you believe you have an interest in implementing your Business Process. That is you want to have users / systems interact with a process that has been implemented by your BPM team. Unless the process is lightweight enough to work with the implementation features available in BWL, we are now looking at BPM Standard and Process Designer.

It is very important to note here that I have rarely seen a Process Diagram from BWL that hasn’t needed changes in order to be fully implemented in IBM BPM. This does not mean that the BWL diagram is incorrect, but rather that the goal of the BWL diagram (Process Documentation) is not fully aligned with the goal we have in IBM BPM (Process Implementation). This does mean that your BWL view of your process and your IBM BPM implementation of your process will require some additional work on your part to keep the details in synch, but if your process is that important to your business, then I think the investment will be warranted.

So in answer to the original question ­ what is the right set of tools to create Business Process Diagrams the answer, I believe, is to first understand your current goal and then worry about the right tooling. And understand that your goal may well evolve over time. From capture and documentation to implementation and maybe even optimization or automation. And at each of those steps you may need a different set of tools to best serve your goal. This is to be expected and even embraced.

  • I like this framework:
    1. consensus for what the process is,
    2. collaboration on design,
    3. dissemination of the definition to others
    4. documentation for the future
    5. explanation over execution
    -> blueworks live is a great fit

    If the concerns are around runtime more than prep-time or design-time or education-time, then Process Designer and its ilk are the right place to focus.