Process Is The Main Thing

@ Anatoly Belaychuk’s BPM Blog

Archive for the ‘Notes’ Category

Michael Hammer Was Right

I critisized reengineering - in its radical form - many times both in public speeches and in private talks.

There was a temporary retreat from the concept of constant performance improvement during the reenineering epoch of 90’s. The technocratical, american, “cowboy” approach has won. Yet the idea of being able to draw the ideal business-process from scratch turned out to be too idealistic. First, cross-functional (enterprise-wide) business process are too complicated to be designed in one iteration. Secondly, there is no such thing as optimal “to be” - only a run to ever-escaping horizon.

Methodology, technology and organizational principles of BPM are based on these realities.

But… there is a nuance.

We conduct BPM projects for several years now and have a clean understanding of three conditions that should be met from a prospect’s side for the project to be successfull:

  1. There must be a “pain”. Business must have a problem critically affecting it’s competitiveness and company’s prospects in general. And the problem should be identified - just an attempt “to do something” is no good.
  2. There must be a will to solve the problem. Companies with degraded motivation - e.g. those where owners abandoned business completely, fully trusting to hired managers without a stock share - have problems at this point.
  3. There must be resources: financial and intellectual. Minimal financial requirement is two full-time specialists, minimum one of them being internal employee. Intellectual resources means top managers being business process owners which implies in particular their readiness to spend one or two hours weekly to participate in process (re)design sessions.

Now, the first condition automatically means that the first step of your BPM project must be no constant improvement game but a radical redesign of the business process.

Why? Because “isn’t broken - don’t fix” principle is still in place. With very rare exceptions, no businessman would launch BPM initiative (as well as any other serious innovation) just because the life became too easy. There must be a performance gap for the project to be financially meaningfull. In simple words, one of valuable processes must be broken.

This way, we are back in reengineering, albeit on a new turn of evolution spiral. And by the way, “as-is” and “to-be” are also back in play - now we need them to quantify and measure process performance at project begin and end to tell the project sponsor exactly what he got for his money.

The bottomline: the BPM car in motion is constant improvement yet the starter of this car is one-shot, radical enough, reengineering-style process improvement.

Too bad I catched this only now when Michael Hammer has gone…

I can’t avoid paying my deep respect on this occasion to another titan that left us last year - Geary Rummler. He said in his interview (possibly the last one):

“I think there is only one critical condition for success that must exist – and that is the existence of a critical business issue (CBI) in the client organization. If there is no CBI (hard to believe) or management is in deep denial as to the existence of one, then serious, transforming BPM is not going to happen. Period. There may be misleading “demonstrations” and “concept tests,” but nothing of substance will happen. How can it? Serious BPM costs money, takes time, and can upset a lot of apple carts, and you can’t do that without an equally serious business case. I guess you could argue that a second condition – or factor – is that the internal BPM practitioner is about 70% a smart business person and 30% a BPM expert. Because the key to their success is going to be finding the critical business issue, understanding how BPM can address it, and then convincing top management to make the investment. I guess those are the two conditions: an opportunity and somebody capable of exploiting that opportunity.”

Thank you Geary, hopefully we’ve got the right course.

03/12/09 | Notes |     Comments: 2

On-the-Fly Process Modification

Another frequently asked question from a forum.

Question - When a business process template is modified (activity added/removed), what happens with process instances started by this template (previous version). What happens with analytics?

Answer - Most BPMS will finish running instances by following old template and will create new instances based on new teplate. It’s acceptable only if the template modification was planned. If - like it happens in most cases - the process became stuck because the template doesn’t have a desired gateway or a flow then you have nothing to do but abort the process instance and start it again by new template making the analytics inconsitent.

Yet there are systems allowing process scheme modification “on the fly”. Recommended reading:

  • article by Glen Smith from Appian explains why this functionality is important from methodology perspective. You can launch the process into operations faster if you don’t have to discover details of all possible exceptions.
  • Keith Svenson from Fujitsu notes that implementing process modification on the fly is hard to implement in a system that uses BPEL for excution. Fujtsu Interstage BPM lets you edit the scheme of a running instance the same way you edit a template; you can save the new instance scheme as a new version of the template if you wish.

Please refer to BPTrends report for the information about specific BPMS.

It’s hard to implement on the fly modification if a business process editor (modeler) is implemented as a desktop application which is the case for most systems. If a process instance stuck one should be able to correct scheme online promptly. Hence the modeler must be implemented as a thin client. Fujitsu Interstage for example has both desctop and online (java applet) modelers.

Oracle BPMS (aka BEA AquaLogic aka Fuego) took another way. The modeler pallette of this system has a special “magic” activity which can get control from any activity and/or pass it to any other acitivity. It solves the major part of the problem - absence of a desired flow on a scheme.

But you shouldn’t rely on a tool only - the process sheme should be designed the right way.

Let’s consider a long-term contract with a customer for example. We are going to deliver goods, obtain money and also renew contract’s terms and re-negotiate its conditions many times during several years. If we tried to implement it technically by a single process then for sure its scheme will be changed many times. Better solution is to create a long-living yet very simple process on the top level - a kind of a state machine keeping the state of our relations with the customer: “contract is beeing agreed”, “contract is in effect”, “contract is being agreed” etc. Every action starting from contract negotiations should be implemented by a workflow-like process. This workflow can be started if the contract is at some specific state and it can send a message to the contract process which will bring it from one state to another. Since the state machine is strictly passive one can modify a workflow scheme freely and/or create several alternative versions of e.g. delivery workflow.

02/09/09 | Notes | , , ,     Comments: 5


The same old question arose on a forum once again:

“In fact many BPM tasks could be solved with a document flow as well as with a DB. Yet results may not be very good…”

This is obviously a FAQ so I’m going to give a deailed answer, re-formulating the question for generality.

Question - What are the borders between DBMS, ECM and BPMS? How should they be combined?

Answer - Generally speaking we have:

  1. structured information where DBMS excels
  2. unstructured information (documents) is what ECM is for
  3. process information is BPMS target

(BPMS uses DBMS internally and ECM may use DBMS or file system for storage but it’s beyond our scope.)

Every member of DBMS-ECM-BPMS trio is able to replace any of two remaining brothers but only some more or less nasty way:

  • DBMS can store documents in text and binary fields yet it’s far from ECM functionality e.g. in navigation, content search, versioning, access control, MS Office integration.
  • DBMS is sometimes used to store process information, usually in a table where each rows defines the next step of document processing. Of course it’s very primitive if compared with BPMS process diagram.
  • ECM has a workflow or process engine yet it doesn’t match BPMS because of proprietary notation, platform, integration tools and what’s most important due to the lack of continuous process improvement methodology support. Simply speaking, a business process can be implemented in ECM but it’s hard to modify it with the speed required by business.
  • Structured data can be entered into Excel file and stored in ECM.
  • BPMS has typed attributes for structured data but clearly it’s for limited use only - the performance is nothing compared to that of DBMS.
  • BPMS lets you attach documents to a process instance yet as well as in DBMS case, the service will be very primitive if compared with ECM. Besides there is a question: how are you going to reach your documents when the process has ended?

So if you are planning the perspective infrastructure then you’ll need all three components. On the other hand, if you face a task limited by functionality, resources and/or timeframe then you may look for a poor-man’s solution by compensating missing components with present ones.

Make your strategy balanced over time. E.g. BPMS document capabilities may suffice for a pilot stage of a BPM project. A pilot project should answer the question - “do we need all this staff at all?” - in the shortest timeframe. In case of positive answer we can add ECM afterwards.

02/05/09 | Notes | , ,     Comments: 4

(Русский) Тим Лири и другие служители карго-культа

Sorry, this entry is only available in Русский.

01/12/09 | Notes | ,     Comments: 10

Processes are fun

To be more precise, it was a big fun back in 90-s; modern process disciplines are not as funny as reengineering and ISO 9000. Look at the selection of Dilbert strips on the matter. » read the rest

01/08/09 | Notes | ,     Comments: closed

Connection refused: from Toshiba laptop to HTC via Bluetooth

On third attept I trained my Toshiba laptop to browse Internet through HTC 3300 connected via Bluetooth. Laptop OS: Vista, PDA OS: Windows Mobile 6.

Following standard instructions results with “connection refused” message on the laptop. Forum users give various advices, including replacing Bluetooth stack on Toshiba. Nothing helped.

Finally I found the right document at Toshiba Bluetooth Information Center: Internet via Bluetooth (TOSHIBA PC — WM6_phone — Internet). Toshiba deserves the highest mark for the document and a low mark for their sites accessability and support site search in particular. I have found this Bluetooth site some random way and it took half an hour to find the same document once again.

But it’s not the end of the story. The document instructs to launch Internet Sharing from PDA’s Comm Manager. Yet HTC Comm Manager doesn’t have such icon. Solution: file explorer - “Windows” folder - “IntShrUI”. Copy then paste the shortcut into Windows/Start Menu folder. You may rename the shortcut to e.g. “Internet Sharing”. That’s it - now follow the Toshiba instruction to connect:

  1. Launch Internet Sharing from PDA Start menu and tap “Connect” (assuming that GPRS is already set up on the PDA).
  2. Add Bluetooth connection to PDA on the laptop (done only once) and connect.
01/01/09 | Notes |     Comments: closed

How many processes are there in your BPM projects?

I noticed that process part of our BPM projects tend to be smaller than the part that may be called traditional enterprise application - planning, accounting, reporting. (With the only difference from tradition that it’s web applications instead of client-server.)

In fact I always believed that BPM is for those who “got a ERP yet didn’t get happiness”. But I can’t see a single company around who have reached the nirvana of total automation - everyone wishes to add something to their software assets. And advanced ones don’t want to go traditional way, they want to strengthen new applications with process support. No objections indeed but as a result we fall into projects that have a lion’s share of more or less traditional applications develoment and smaller process management part. Our analysts and developers spend most of their time on these applications, not on business processes. Not a big deal of course - we are in this business for more than 15 years - just boring if compared with the process work.

As someone said on forum, BPMS ain’t a silver bullet because there is still a lot to do manually.

But a simple thought got into my mind today: i’ts simply because BPMS makes the process part easy while the rest of the job remains the same. Let’s imagine for a moment that we have the same two parts of the job - traditional and process ones - but no BPMS. The volume of process work would increase manyfold and balance would shift.

Let me use my favorite BPMS-DBMS analogy. Database development takes relatively small part in today’s projects if compared with UI development. But it’s only because modern DBMS’es simplify this job tremendously. Just imagine for a moment that data are managed by some C library and you have to programm data navigation also on C instead of SQL.

Conclusion: it’s not about being rich with BPMS, it’s about being very poor without it!

12/11/08 | Notes |     Comments: closed

About this site design

Does it hurt your eyes? Sorry - this is what I call “genuine design” :) What about usability - navigation? Typography? Search?

It may seem that Wordpress has more than enough  themes ready to use. But when you come closer -

  1. standard/default themes are awfull
  2. most of them are not internationalized or internationalization is broken
  3. the vast majority use fixed width layout and fixed fonts - I hate this style
  4. only few works smoothly in IE6 which still is the most widely browser used I guess

So I had to do it myself. YUI CSS helped a lot. It gives you

  • a relaible base (all browsers are brought to unified visual style)
  • reasonable typography (fonts and spaces)
  • grid framework (top-level web page layout markup)

It’s really very helpfull. CSS is a kind of black magic which can burn your brains. With YUI you just add your specific styles to well-established basement - fast and easy.

I also considered the Blueprint CSS which is promoted by Google but YUI has better concept, supports flexible layout  and is far more mature.

11/29/08 | Notes |     Comments: 7

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