Is BPM Good for "Tasks for Knowledge Workers"?

  • April 9, 2012
  • Scott

John Reynolds’ Thoughtful Programmer blog is full of good information, and once in a while I need to call out a particularly good post for comment.  Recently he wrote about Tasks for Knowledge Workers, offering up one generalization of these kinds of tasks as “Review and Decide”.  There are others but this is as good as any to focus on.  Review the request, information, and systems, and then make a Decision.

John writes:

BPM tools work well for Structured Processes – where Task C follows Task B follows Task A – but they don’t work so well if there’s no set order for A, B and C – and any or all of those Tasks might be optional or might cause additional Tasks to be spawned.  It’s possible for a Business SME to design these scenarios (with BPMN), but not easy.

John is right that a Business SME should not have to design this kind of process.  However, the first sentence I don’t agree with – “but they don’t work so well if there’s no set order… ”  Actually, BPMN implementations can be used quite well to represent these cases. But a better product design (less complicated for the business SME) is to include these capabilities in a way that is accessible to the business SME.  At BP3 we’ve implemented these ad-hoc patterns as reusable toolkits in IBM BPM, for example, and they were not only easy to implement, they’re easy to incorporate into other processes at either design or run-time (without modifying the original diagram).  But they do require a deeper level of expertise than the Business SME is likely to have.

It just takes a little creativity to do this in a generalized way, rather than a process-specific way.  I’ve often said that all the noise about “ACM” was mostly a vendor-specific limitation or a lack of imagination on the part of modelers, and our own efforts prove that out.  However, as John points out, a typical Business SME shouldn’t have to be as creative as we’ve been.  That’s where a reusable toolkit comes in – the pattern has been generalized and turned into a component.  Essentially, there’s a very simple process for capturing unstructured processes!

We’ve got to make Knowledge Worker Tasks like this easier for Business SMEs to “Program”.  Business SMEs understand these types of Tasks very well, and they can describe these Tasks very clearly – What’s missing are tools to capture their descriptions and implement these Knowledge Worker Tasks as easily as BPMN can capture and implement Structured Process Logic.



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