Jim Sinur in his post BPMN for Business Professionals: Burn Baby Burn points strongly to the conclusion that BPMN is simply not suitable for business users. I am not surprised as this has been a topic of the case management crowd since March (see Is the Checklist mightier than the Model?). There have been many discussion recently about the new version (BPMN 2.0) and how the only additions are programmer oriented.
Studies done on the usefulness (see How much BPMN do you need? and Who is at fault – the language or the speaker?) have not had much effect on the new version of the language. The BPMN standard group has been focused on providing constucts that map well to BPEL, without apparent concern for the business user. My own proposal to allow Representing Choice in a Process Diagram — an activity common for actual human processes — was passed up.
I am sure to get flooded with comments on all the additions that are business oriented. To be fair, there are a huge number of a additions, so no doubt some of them are business oriented. But if one steps back and takes a look at the high view, there is no question that the main thrust of the change, and nearly all of the additions, were to make BPMN more suitable to programmers.
The issue is not entirely that BPMN has been enhanced too far. My first proposal for a standardized graphical language in 1993 (see “A Visual Language to Describe Collaborative Work” in the Proceedings of the International Workshop for Visual Languages) was based on the idea that non-technical users would find a graphical language more comfortable. Experience in the following 17 years convinces me that even though it is graphical, there is an abstractness & formality that non-programmers find uncomfortable. There is evidence that business people do not think about their processes in this way, and find the graphical diagram unnatural.
2 Migrate, or not 2 Migrate?
The question I would like to pose: will vendors migrate to BPMN 2.0, or will they stick with BPMN 1.2 as “good enough”?
As usual, it depends. For server integration style BPM, otherwise known as Enterprise Application Integration, or Web Service Orchestration, there is a reasonable advantage in getting the additional formalism of BPMN 2.0 for this kind of programming.
For human style BPM which uses diagram to depict the actions of organizational members, instead of servers, may find that the additional complexity of BPMN 2.0 only adds additional complexity without sufficient benefit to the users. I guess that is what Jim means by “Burn Baby Burn”.
Time will tell, but Jim Sinur points to the most likely and reasonable solution and that is that products will continue to offer multiple modeling notations to meet the needs of the various users.
Are Business Users Too Lazy?
It would be arrogant to suggest that business users just need to hunker down and learn BPMN to be effective. This would be like arguing that a graphical user interface is not needed if only users would take the time to learn to use a command line interface.
The counter point is that business people are so busy taking care of business, that they don’t have time or inclination to learn a programming language. The point that Jim is making is that the capabilities that BPMN is providing, is simply not fit for use by business people. Not that business people are too dumb or lazy. About thinking that everyone wants to become a programmer, he says “It is this IT arrogance that could sink BPM technologies.”
In light of the discussion that has resulted from the above post, let me add a few clarifications for the readers encountering this post fresh:
- I used the term “Business Professional” to mean a typical worker in a typical office. Clearly there are many specialties including process analysts and programmers. Process analysts and programmers are not typical business professionals. I mean to speak about the vast majority of business professionals, and not the relatively few exceptions.
- I never say that BPMN is useless. To the contrary, I say that it is useful for programmers and other specialists like business process analysts. I have traditionally been one of the biggest supporters of BPMN. Since 2005 I have been regularly giving presentation and tutorials on the benefits of BPMN. Still, the preponderance of the evidence is that the majority of business professionals do not gain enough benefit to make it worth their while to learn about it.
- When I say that BPMN is not useful to the typical worker in the workplace, that is not necessarily a bad thing, nor is this an insult. Everything that has a purpose, has such only in specific situations. I am simply pointing out that BPMN, contrary to a lot of the misinformation spread around, is not useful for a typical office worker. I believe there are other, better ways of representing a process to those. It is very important for people evaluating these technologies to be aware of where and when something will be useful.
- Finally, I hoped to demonstrate how it is that technologists will claim that something is useful for everybody, when in fact they really mean a relatively small group of specialists. Perhaps the comments on this post succeed better than I could have.
I welcome all the comments, and thank you to all who have contributed in making this a lively discussion.