Bruce Silver posted an article “BPMN’s Three Levels, Reconsidered” on his blog. (It’s a fllow-up to the earlier post on the matter: “Three Levels of Process Modeling with BPMN“.) From his two-years experience of giving BPMN classes Bruce noticed that many of students (he even says “most” couple of paragraphs forward) are simply trying to document, analyse and improve their processes and don’t bother about executable models. Bruce calls this Level 1 of BPMN usage. Level 2 also covers activity flow model suitable for direct execution inside BPMS that includes conditional logic, exceptions, events, messaging (process choreography assumed yet not mentioned).
But is it about BPMN really?
I like the statement Mark McGregor made on the cover page of his new book “Winning With Enterprise Process Management” (freely available at markmcgregor.com):
…process thinking takes many forms - Business Process Management, Continuous Process Improvement, Six Sigma, Lean Sigma, Business Process Reengineering and many others…
Mark is right: it’s about thinking. Process thinking. Different kinds of process thinking, to be precise.
Do you remember the times when object-oriented programming was just invented? It was noticed that it’s not about programming languages. One could write object-oriented software even with Fortran (and some people did when there were no decent C++ compilers) if he catched the idea. And of course you can (and many people actually do) write 100%-functional code on C++.
An interesting observation was made at that time: it’s much easier to teach C++ to a newbie than to experienced C programmers. The reason - it’s about installing a certain kind of mindset (object-oriented in that case) or changing it. The latter turns out to be much harder than the former.
Now I have absolutely the same experience with people trying to understand what BPMN (BPM, BPMS - you name it) is about. Those who deal with business processes for years and have strong background in BPR, ISO9000 etc. can’t grasp what’s so cool about executable process models. They always considered execution to be “implementation details”, something IT should care about. Some of them become irritated enough to say or write that BPM is nothing new, it’s pure marketing, it’s an “umbrella concept” etc.
By contrast, every student and/or junior consultant becomes excited about possibilities that this concept opens. When you just draw a process diagram you can make a dozen of them, all being valid and all being different. That’s no good. When execution is involved - even in it’s simplest form, with simple automatically generated screens and zero integration - you go from “diagrams” to “the diagram”. The analyst isn’t in position to draw an unconsistent diagram any more: if he does, the diagram returns back to him with developer’s note “sorry, can’t be executed this way, please correct”.
Getting back to BPMN Training - Bruce uses Process Modeler for Microsoft Visio by itp commerce for his classes. It could be a perfect choice: high level of BPMN compliance and strong simulation capabilities. But there is no execution. And you just can’t explain what is the execution by words and slides, without showing it.
When we realized this fact several years ago, we recorded and published a simple demo video showing BPMS modeling and execution. And it became a hit. Many people said “thank you” because it helped them understand the directly executable process model concept, regardless of BPMS used.
So Bruce, if you wish more people moved from Level 1 to Level 2, you must show them how a model can be executed in BPMS and how iterational modeling and execution is done. Don’t leave it implicit and don’t assume people know it already. Because as you say it yourself - most of them don’t and it’s the key assumption behind BPMN.