Of Zealots and Incompetents… and BPM Blogs

  • May 10, 2011
  • Scott

Mark Cotgrove of Nimbus has recently gotten into the blogging game.  He has a fresh perspective and a great writing voice.  But out of his first 4 posts, two of them take personal shots at people I have a lot of respect for.

First, he refers to Bruce Silver (and others, not named) as “BPMN Zealots“.  Where I come from, zealot is a pretty serious insult.  I would call Bruce an advocate of BPMN.  But Bruce’s career precedes BPMN.  So it isn’t as if he’s never seen UML or flow charts or other tools.  He has.  He’s found a tool that has helped him express processes, and he’s helped teach these tools to many other people.  I find that grounds for respect, rather than derision (admittedly, Bruce and I sometimes pick on each other in blog comments, but it does not diminish my respect for his work).

Mark’s summary is that BPMN is like Esperanto.  Is it? Or is it like spreadsheets and flowcharts and whiteboard diagrams – things that lots of people have learned and put to good use (but certainly not everyone has learned them, nor has to).

In his fourth post (“Phil Gilbert’s Never Seen Process Chaos“), he takes a shot at Phil Gilbert, with a backhanded compliment about his good presentation last year at BPM 2010.  But beyond that, he says:

Here’s my thinking; If you’ve come from the world of BPA and BPMS/process automation, (which is the enormous majority of people in the process space, so I think this probably applies to pretty much every BPM commentator), then you are unconsciously incompetent to talk about massive deployment of process into an organisation.

So, you’re saying Phil is incompetent, right?  I guess I would propose back to Mark: you don’t know what you don’t know, about people in the BPM field.  Moving on…

And it might sound warm, fuzzy and attractive to western sensibilities but I can tell you it is an utter mess. You get exactly what Phil is proposing; loads of people building content, really getting into it, communicating like mad, and guess what? No value and ultimately frustrated people. This is one case where out of the chaos no beautiful order emerges…

Right, we wouldn’t want the unwashed masses to implement their own processes for things that don’t rise to the volume, scope, and $ value of the typical BPM project. What Mark is describing sounds more like what used to happen with SharePoint (or Excel).  Loads of SharePoint sites and no one knows where to go to initiate the process they want to interact with.  (But, that isn’t what Phil was proposing in his talk last year… )

I’d love to know more about what Nimbus does, and how it approaches this thing most of us call BPM (but some call ACM as well).  I read Ian’s posts regularly and follow him on Twitter.  Mark’s early blog posts show great promise for an entertaining read. But I, for one, hope his critiques will be more of others’ opinions and ideas, without demeaning their competency nor their reasoning capabilities.  I’m just not a big fan of the personal shots – maybe Mark or others won’t consider them such, but that’s how they read to me.  If there’s one thing I’ve noticed, in this BPM space, there’s more than meets the eye to most of the personalities and “BPM Commentators”.


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  • Mark Cotgrove

    Hi Scott, thanks for reading the blog! I do think however that I need to clear up the points you make as I’ve not, by my own definition (http://markcotgrove.wordpress.com/2011/05/10/some-further-food-for-thought-bpm-process/), actually communicated very well, at least to you and possibly to the others mentioned as well.

    Firstly let me state for the record that I have absolutely no intent to show any personal disrespect and if that’s the way it came across then I sincerely apologize.

    With regard to ‘zealot’ maybe we have cultural differences but to me it’s far closer to a compliment than otherwise; I mentioned (http://markcotgrove.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/jamie-oliver-teaches-two-things/) that I think passion is a fundamental characteristic and a zealot is certainly that! There are numerous definition sites, none of which portray a zealot as negative; how about “One who is zealous, one who engages warmly with any cause and pursues his object with earnestness and ardor” Yes I’ve taken a subset of the definition but that sums up my feelings, and by the way I would consider myself a zealot for a number of causes!

    WRT to Phil and ‘incompetence’ please take that in the spirit in which it was intended, I did use a smiley after all!. To be more serious, clearly Phil is anything but incompetent in his domain but we are all incompetent outside of our domains to a certain extent. (Polymaths are much rarer these days as one has to get deeper and deeper in a subject to be able to have a voice, lending less time for other learnings). My point was that, in my experience, most BPM people have experience in stuff that Gartner describes as BPA and BPMS and therefore have little or no experience of wholesale deployment of process capabilities in the way that Nimbus does. (equally don’t ask any of us to deploy a process execution engine for you!) How many BPM experts have been closely involved with the building of capability in an organization to deploy process content to 50,000 – 300,000 people?

    I take your point about not knowing what Nimbus does; maybe we should fix that? I’ll put you in contact with some of my US based colleagues and hopefully we can share a beer at some point in order for me to attempt communicate more effectively with you!!

    Best regards

    • Mark – thanks for the thoughtful response. Regarding “zealot”, there are two things that caused me to interpret it the way I did –

      1. since certain world events in the last 10 yrs, it just has a different connotation in the US than it probably has historically. A more negative connotation.

      2. a zealot (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/zealot) is “one who is zealous, especially excessively so”, or “a fanatically committed person”… Other definitions are similar, except for a few historical references. It makes someone out to be passionate about a cause to the point of being fanatic (which is bad), irrational (which is bad), and extreme (which is, absent reason, also bad). I think Bruce’s advocacy of BPMN is well-reasoned and thoughtful, not fanatic. Obviously, other well-reasoned people disagree with Bruce (and other BPMN advocates), but that doesn’t make either side zealots in my book.

      Passion is fantastic – but passion without or beyond reason is dangerous.

      Regarding the incompetency – I think your general point is a fine one to make (people with experience deploying a BPMS may not know how to roll out process change to 50,000 people) – but by applying it to a specific person, you’re making assumptions and statements you can’t back up with facts (even if your assumptions are true)

      I would definitely take you guys up on a tour or info-sharing exercise with Nimbus. It sounds like a different approach, which makes it interesting. I also haven’t seen as much in the way of product reviews and such for Nimbus as I have for some of the other BPM players…

  • Scott,

    Thanks for your spirited defense of my non-zealotry. These Nimbus guys (Mike Gammage as well) have been taking shots at me ever since they were getting thrown out of Alcatel-Lucent around the time of my BPMN classes there. Commercial considerations motivating high-toned blogging? Who could imagine such a thing! ;-}


    • Mark Cotgrove

      Bruce, I think it’s fair to say that most, if not all, people blogging in this space have at least one eye on the commercials. At the very least, even if products/services aren’t mentioned directly, there’s a value to being known and respected for one’s views that at some point may well translate into business of some kind. That is equally true for you so I don’t think that the commercial angle has any weight here.

      From my blog perspective, I hope you take my comment below in the way that it was intended, I don’t in any way mean to disrespect you or anyone elsel. This is all supposed to be in the spirit of good discussion, whether we agree with each other or not, and I mean sincerely what I have said in other posts that arguments are good as they help us all move the thinking on. None of us knows ‘the truth’, we’re all looking from our perspectives through the lens of our own prejudices, and when our ideas and thoughts are held up to the light for critical discussion in the blogosphere it helps us all understand a little more and modify our thinking.

      I’m going to post another blog soon about how I see the language of process and, in essence, how BPMN and other notations can and should in my view co-exist in a very complimentary fashion, hopefully you’ll read and comment!

      Best regards

    • Mark Cotgrove

      Forgot to add, see this post, (http://bpmforreal.wordpress.com/2011/05/08/doesnt-debate-make-us-stronger-socialbpm-bpm-supplychain/) it makes you think about arguments, at least it did me!

  • In fairness, i should have said “what i interpreted to be personal shots”. My interpretation isn’t necessarily the way others will read it or the way Mark intended it. Standard disclaimers apply 🙂