Is BPM Dead?

Scott Francis writes an column saying “BPM is Doing Just Fine, Thankyou” saying that the rumors of BPM’s death are, as Mark Twain would put it: exaggerated.  There has been a lot of  interest and concern on this topic in recent weeks.

Before going too far, let me clearly state that BPM is not dead.  It is vibrant and continues growing. At the same time something else is happening we should all understand.

Context

The apparent disagreement of points is just a matter of context.  As usually happens, there are so many different expectations.  While some people continue to be happy with the subject of BPM, others are now disillusioned, and talk about how it does not meet their needs.

Understand that there have been many different meanings for “Business Process Management” (BPM).  Many have promoted it vigorously, claiming that it would solve every organizational woe.  In many senses, BPM was the answer to everything, or so it would seem.  All you need is BPM, and your organization will be transformed into a global front runner.

Scott is completely correct in saying that BPM — where it works well — will continue to work well.  There is no death of BPM in the “automation” space: places where the processes are either system-to-system or routine human processes where the process is definable in advance.  A large majority of such predictable processes have not yet been automated, and there is a healthy opportunity for companies to continue to sell products and services into that space.  I see the recent spate of acquisitions as confirmation of this, not denial of it.  But Scott’s statistics reflect only the part of the technology realm that BPM has worked for in the past … it says nothing about the space wants help but is finding BPM unhelpful.

When you have a hammer, all the problems start to look like nails.  What is happening is that we are, at last, realizing that while there are many nails,  not all the problems can be solved with a hammer.

BPM (like all other high tech topics) has been overhyped, and proponents have said that it will be useful for things that we are now seeing just ain’t so.  There were many people promising that BPMN would be used directly by business people, but what we see is not only do business people shun such diagramming, but that tool vendors make their modeling tools more and more for trained specialists. Even the BPMN 2.0 standard committee (see below)  is pushing it to be more and more oriented towards a language you build systems with.

We are now seeing the backlash by those who are now disillusioned.  These people were told that BPM would handle every business process, but we now know that there are many processes which are unpredictable.  Knowledge work, for which the process is not predictable in advance, is somewhere between 40% and 44% of the workforce by many estimates, and growing.  The backlash is coming from people who had been told that BPM would work for all processes.  The people saying this might have known “of course it doesn’t work when there is no predictable process — that is obvious” but the people hearing the claim for support of all work did not realize that there was this disclaimer.

To many knowledge workers, all work is unpredictable in this way.  Everyone they work with is a knowledge worker.  It is understandable that when they hear that BPM can transform any organization, they think it applies to them.   When Dave Duggal says “There is a reason why business leaders suddenly have wandering eyes…” it does not mean the end of BPM as we know it, but instead the beginning of a new space which BPM will not address.

BPMN 2.0 Standard

One of the things driving this is watching the finalization of BPMN 2.0.  Recently, committee members from IBM has been arguing vehemently that conformance classes should be included in the spec.  They argue, a tool vendor should implement 100% of everything or nothing.  100% implementation is useful only to a programmer.  Elimination of conformance classes would effectively eliminate any “business oriented” use of BPMN 2.0 – or any lightweight tools designed to be sold to business people.  Instead, big complicated system definition tools will be the only legitimate implementation.  Business people don’t need that complexity.  Some, like Bruce Silver and Robert Shapiro are trying to rescue the situation, but the mere fact that committee has to argue over this case tells me that BPMN 2.0 is being taken forcefully in the wrong direction, further widening the divide.

Still, the main reason for the backlash is not what is happening to BPMN, but instead the growing realization that there that an increasing amount of the work is knowledge work, which requires a different approach for “facilitation”, not “automation”. (And regular readers know this is called Adaptive Case Management…)

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19 Responses to Is BPM Dead?

  1. sfrancis says:

    I responded on my blog. My only complaint is the assertion that these unpredictable processes aren’t subject to management (ie, not Business Process Management) 🙂

  2. kswenson says:

    To summarize my comment on your blog, it not “management” that is missing from ACM, but sometimes “process” is missing. While it is possible to have an ACM template without process, it is impossible to havea BPM Solution without a process. Without a process, it simply is not BPM. Ergo, ACM can not be a subset of BPM.

    • Daniel says:

      I accept that there are thigns you just do (let’s have coffee today ) and that some thigns come about despite having no obvious plan or process (UK government, eventually) but dispute the premise that BPM should not be playing a part.A problem with BPM is the assumption that the process cannot be changed in flight. It seems entirely reasonable to me that a process should be followed ; have a “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” moment; and be changed at that point. Visualising the state in a BPMN diagram allows a view of what has been followed upto a state and what is expected to follow. The executable BPMN engines of today will struggle with a change to inflight process instances but there is still plenty of development milage to run there.

    • Yonatan says:

      Excelente sitio para comentar y cocnoer opiniones acerca del producto. Aunque interactuando con Bizagi he tenido solucif3n a algunas dudas presentadas en el manejo de BPMN con este nueva opcif3n, estoy seguro, la comunicacif3n y solucif3n de problemas pueden ser mucho mejores. Felicitaciones, estaba haciendo falta un excenario como este.

  3. sfrancis says:

    A task might have no process, but can still be described as a subset of BPM.
    My point? the statement that something can be described w/o a process doesn’t make it “not a subset of a process” prima facia, it requires more context than that.

    So what is an example you would use, of an ACM template “without process” ? (to clarify the distinction).

  4. Keith, as I said before – there will always be the discussion what is meant or included in BPM. This can’t be won or even clarified. If now managing any kind of work aspect is now BPM because it inlcludes the ‘M’, then what else is left.

    You know my stance. I think that only a small subset of work can benefit from rigid processes, regardless of how implemented and the rest doesn’t when taken a long-term perspective and not just quarter-results relevant cost cutting.

    Also that structured work can be easily implemented with an ACM approach so do flowcharting in the first place. Why bother with the bureaucracy and reduction in flexibility? If a business already has a Process Center of Excellence they can do it themselves without the need for outside process analysts and design experts.

    So, YES! I think that the days of the rigid FLOWCHARTED PROCESS are coming towards an end. And you can call it what you want, but that’s what will happen, because that’s what the technology will offer and businesses are going to use it. Let’s not waste time over a stupid acronym …

    • Naresh says:

      Keith. These discussions intcdaie that a growing number of people perceive that there are largely unmet, or at least under-served, business process use cases. If BPM(N) could serve every use case ACM would be dead-0n-arrival, but yet it lives.This is not a gratuitous debate to hawk new technology its about understanding that knowledge-work has different needs and exploring new tooling to fit the requirements. BPM(N) delivers a broad range of capabilities, and I have no doubt that its proponents and providers will drive improvements to try and address knowledge-work, which is right and good. I’m glad they care and are listening. There is no reason why BPM and ACM can’t co-exist and even inter-operate. However, at a technological, philosphical, and operational level this debate is about orientation and perspective. Fundamentally, its about unfolding a process around an end-user’s objectives and actions, rather than folding a user in a process.PS Thanks for the mention.

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  7. Dave Duggal says:

    Well said Keith. These discussions indicate that a growing number of people perceive that there are largely unmet, or at least under-served, business process use cases. If BPM(N) could serve every use case ACM would be dead-0n-arrival, but yet it lives.

    This is not a gratuitous debate to hawk new technology – its about understanding that knowledge-work has different needs and exploring new tooling to fit the requirements.

    BPM(N) delivers a broad range of capabilities, and I have no doubt that its proponents and providers will drive improvements to try and address knowledge-work, which is right and good. I’m glad they care and are listening. There is no reason why BPM and ACM can’t co-exist and even inter-operate.

    However, at a technological, philosphical, and operational level this debate is about orientation and perspective. Fundamentally, its about unfolding a process around an end-user’s objectives and actions, rather than folding a user in a process.

    PS – Thanks for the mention.

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  8. Keith,
    The idea that business process management would die is fallacious. We should remember that BPM started as an evolution of management away from the functional offices of the industrial and post world-war II period. Firstly, BPM is a widely-discussed management philosophy that has been growing steadily since the 1990s Secondly, Business Process Modeling, the other BPM, is what is evolving. BPM will not die any sooner than Six-Sigma or Lean. On the other hand, modeling is changing.
    The idea that modeling an as-is and a ‘to-be’ process, in BPMN, is what is wobbling.
    In terms of modeling a process is just a viewpoint or an aspect of a business or organization. An equally valid perspective is the data perspective. Data perspectives are narrow and lack the process orientation; yet, what business would run without its data? Yet another perspective is that of events. With an event viewpoint the business is merely a grid of monitors and potential responses.

    The way that most business analysts model processes in BPMN, particularly with the current methods and styles, is neither a good description of the as-is process nor a good basis to create a digitized process. Business is learning this, just as they learned from the ‘analysis paralysis’ of data modeling or business rules fact modeling.

    Tom

  9. Tom, I wonder from where you take this certainty that SixSigma and Lean — some of the worst bureaucracy overheads — are so firmly entrenched. Nobody would have thought that Russian style communism — which was an equally rigidly planned system — would pop. But suddenly it did. Honestly, it would not surprise me at all in IT.

    Especially as you so properly point out the importance of data entities and events, and the limits of flowcharts. I would add measure-to-manage and KPI-bonuses, which studies of work psychology see as failures.

    Can we agree that an oucome-focused organization, real-time data and events, global and local rules, business content and role context-based user interfaces would provide the perfect environment for non-flowcharted business processes? Or what what else is missing? And is that still BPM?

    By the way, business is mostly learning that buiness agility is not to be found in today’s BPM methodologies and software as promised …

    • Eric says:

      I agree with Mr. Fan Yi on the BPM 2010 point : Regarding the BPM 2010 I have to say I am jealous that you met so many faomus BPM people. About cultural and technical issues: again Mr. Yi makes a valid point that vendors can only address the technical issues. However, I do not completely agree with this. The BPM community (everybody involved with BPM end users, vendors, researchers, analysts, theorists et al) as a whole defines BPM Culture’. Pardon me, if I am confusing BPM culture’ with organizational culture’ of resisting change, but if I am on the right track then, in my opinion vendors are also significant contributors to the prevalent culture. On the technical front, I wholeheartedly support the idea that tools should be conceptually simple and easy to use, and we know that this works Excel sheet proliferation is a case in hand. However, should BPM look to co-opt tasks and activities that are currently being done through Excel and email? I am not so sure whether this idea will work. Many Excel like tools have tried to do exactly that in the past, unsuccessfully. Moreover, I don’t see a need for it. I agree that a simpler, easier to understand modelling notation is called for, and it will help improve BPM penetration, but shouldn’t we guard against scope creep?

  10. Max,

    You are missing an integral view, that is the idea that an organization would aggregate the risk of all transations in a binary way so as to create sustainable business practices. That is: we treat our customers, shareholder and associates in a balanced manner.

    I call this a trans-rational organization.

    That would kill the bonus plans you mentions.

    SixSigma & Lean, just like everything else will evolve into something else and the beneficial practices will remain and the trash (mutha) will fade away.

    Did not Toyota basically create lean 🙂

    Did’nt massively efficient processes write billions and billions in sub-prime mortgages.

    Tom

    • Thanks, Tom. Sorry you did not provide an answer to my question. Hm, easy to prove that you are misinterpreting what I might be missing or not. Virtually in all my writing I speak of the balanced Magic Triangle.

      Anyway, we seem to agree that the efficient processes are not the final wisdom. The subprime mortgages were additionally optimized by heavily used risk assessment software and predictive analytics — my other pet peeve.

      But yes, change is inevitable and all our discussions will just have been mist in the winds.

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  13. Myrna says:

    I’ve been a fan of checklists for many years.You can even take a step bnoeyd your model by including links on them that share where to find any detailed instructions, manuals, templates or boilerplate documents relevant to completing that action. Similar links can also be added to capture copies of any natural outputs (eg reports, quotes, letters, test results, etc) from the action.If you’re diligent about creating these links, the checklist becomes an excellent repository and tracking tool for what actually happened during each case without requiring any other redundant tracking notations.

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