Seven Categories to Replace BPM

By now you have all heard, BPM is dead.  It was loved to death, smothered by good intentions.  All the vendors claimed to have BPM — and more!  The analysts would point to anything vaguely about people doing work, and proclaim it is “just another BPM.”  And yet BPM wore so many faces that it was impossible for anyone to clearly identify it.  The end did not come suddenly.  Instead, BPM weathered a long and protracted battle with inflated expectations, delayed disillusionment, and in some cases abject mendacity.  It seemed that BPM was almost everything to everyone, and yet if you are all things you are nothing.

Yet BPM Lives On!

BPM is survived by a host of offspring which are all healthy and thriving.  These family members carry on the hopes and dreams that BPM held true to, and do it with many hands and many more forms than a single moniker could accomplish.  BPM has brought us to a level of maturity, where we no longer need the simplified concept that a single size will fit all.  Our IT culture has matured to appreciate the different forms of work that people do, and the differing needs they have for support.  Now we can appreciate the benefit of approaches tuned to a specific need.

Out of respect for the departed, we should no longer use the term “BPM” except for historical references in hallowed tones.

Terms to Use Instead

The biggest problem with the term BPM is that so many people saw it as meaning so many different things.  This causes unnecessary arguments between experts, like the blind men arguing over the shape of an elephant.  We can clarify this debate by naming the subcategories of BPM.

1. Management of Business Processes (MoBP) – This is the management practice, and outgrowth of the process oriented thinking and the Business Process Reengineering movement of the 1990s.  This is really just a management discipline which views tasks of various workers as being linked together into processes, and is informed by measures of process efficiency, and with a desire to continually improve the process.  Other names include LEAN, Six Sigma, etc.  There are many varied tools that people use, but nothing structured into specific applications.  The audience is primarily management.

2. Business Process Analysis (BPA) – this is a type of BPM where process experts map processes using graphical modeling tools.  This is the space where SAG’s ARIS business modeling tool fits (and others).  There is a strong modeling angle, with many different styles of modeling, but very little or no actual automation or enactment support for a process.  The audience again is primarily management and process analysts.

3. Process Driven Server Integration (PDSI) – This type of BPM is an information technology initiative to link together servers in a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) environment.  A process designer will draw the process using a graphical language (probably BPMN) with the aim to produce an executable program that will send and retrieve information.  There is no “B” in this acronym.  This is the BPEL paradigm, also known as Straight Thru Processing (STP).  This environment is created for programmers who want to use diagrams so that they can explain what the process does to business people.

4. Human Process Management Systems (HPM) – This is the type of BPM where forms are routed through a set of people.  The route is typically determined by a graphical process with the boxes representing a human activity and assigned to a person (or group).  Details such as notification of responsibility, reminders, and reassignment of responsibility are NOT included in the diagram because those are just naturally assumed to be part of the HPMS infrastructure.  Also known as Human Workflow Systems.  Human Process Management applications are developed by programmers for business people to use.

5. Production Case Management Systems (PCM) – These systems are configured (programmed) by programmers for large numbers of professionals to use.  There is less of a process than HPMS.  Instead it has a set of well defined states, and a set of functions that can be done in each state.  Movement between states is pretty much the choice of the case managers, but adding states can only be done by the programmer.  Production Case Management applications are developed by programmers for business people to use.

6. Adaptive Case Management Systems (ACM) – These are malleable systems used by knowledge workers within a learning organization.  Here the case manager must both figure out how to do something, as well as do it.  Useful for managers, executives, board members, new product introduction, disaster response, emergencies, mergers, acquisitions, creative teams, innovation, research.  There are no fixed states, but case managers will copy on old case or a template to avoid having to re-design the states every time.  New states can be added at any time by the case manager without requiring any specialized tools.  Goals can be created and completed at any time, and this forms the primary organizing theme of the interaction.  Strong support for content management.

7. Social Content Management Systems (SCM) – Massively multi-user business systems for sharing and collaborating around content.  This is where all the Social Media activity is going.  It is far less goal oriented than a case management system.  All sorts of other names for closely related ideas: Social Business System, Enterprise Social Systems, Enterprise 2.0 systems, etc.  This is an environment primarily for business people and IT departments when they are not programming.

(8) Page Flow – This is technology that supports a series of screens to present to a user, or multiple users, to collect information.  Examples include the shopping cart handling for an e-commerce site.  There is a state machine, and sometimes a flow chart is used.  I would not include this as a style of BPM, but some people do, so I include it here for completeness.

(9) Workflow – While originally workflow was an expansive topic like BPM, it has most recently come to mean a style of handing data that must be processed by multiple applications.  Workflow is a technique for passing data from one application to another, or really invoking a sequence of applications to transform the data through a series of forms.  Implementation can be a simple batch script file.  Again, I would not include this as a style of BPM mainly because usually it is used by a single user, and BPM by definition must involve the coordination of a team of people.

Did I forget any?  Please comment.


Yes, all of these have been considered “BPM” at various time by various people.  I have witnessed sometimes energetic debates between people about the qualities of BPM, only to find out that they were intending different types of BPM all the time.  I have no idea if these names of the various subtypes of BPM will stick, but I am quite sure that continuing to confuse them is not doing anyone any good.  It is only natural that terms have a life cycle; they are invented, they are refined, and then finally they expire in favor of more precisely defined terms.  While the term “BPM” will certainly enjoy another decade of life in casual use, I think it is time for the leaders in the field to start being a little more specific about what they really mean.

Many thanks to the members of the ACM Linked-In group, and WfMC members, that helped in discussing and refining these categories.


14 thoughts on “Seven Categories to Replace BPM

  1. Hi Keith: Sorry, but you forgot Purpose Case Management (brand new fresh)

    Many changes occurred since the early 90’s. Like a process, one of the main features about BPM is it has evolved and merged with very different disciplines and this is the reason BPM has
    always had the capacity to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Always believed on that.

    Social interactions are putting the customer in control of the process (there is no coming back on this shift), this means that you cannot design or find a better way to perform. Internet of things feeding bid data will complicate even more the way companies will interact.

    The next process instance is always going to be different it will tend to be unique. This means companies need to find a way to blend process snippets or patterns to figure it out a solution for a particular instance. This is a challenge. Because approaches and systems that support particular approaches around the different hypes and flavors don’t connect with each other (I mean concepts, not the IT miiddleware). Thus the hypes you and Michel (in the link above) refer created execution silos. Companies with a long-term thought had the knowledge to understand as interaction outside and inside was changing, continue to adapt, keeping the very same key BPM principles, for example, design only makes sense on predefined, repeated process type, but run time design makes sense on dynamic /adaptive process type. Design does not make any sense on emergency process type, despite there are red books, emergency plans that are useless because you act first and measure the consequences after until you have the problem under control and then you can apply a pre/semi defined approach to shut down the emergency. Under this scenario, voice IS the best technology.

    The trick is how to play the bull process bandwidth from Emergency, Adaptive to Simple (where BPM was born). This is something I will bring to a seminar at BPM Conference Europe 2012 (

    In the mean time it’s worth revising an old post about an abstract approach how to combine the full process bandwidth


    • Thanks Alberto. While writing this I also read Michael Poulin’s post on Purpose Case Management. I thought carefully about it, and there is a lot of good stuff there. I actually wrote a review/summary but have not published it yet. It seems to me that this concept is the idea of a container that allows you to choose the right sub-genre to use for a particular goal. Thus I don’t see it as a new sub-genre in itself, but rather a framework to use these existing ones. He proposes that you choose from four subgenres: BPM (I think he means Human Process Management), Social BPM (possibly equivalent to my Social Content System), Unstructured BPM (Possibly Production Case Management), and ACM. The exact clarification of the sub genres is necessary.

      Is this anything more than a “Business Mash-Up?” I strongly agree that different approaches are suitable for different situations. It is important to note that his concept includes the idea that a goal might *change* from one approach to another approach in the middle, and that is very important because it is often impossible to tell ahead of time which is needed. However, some changes might not be possible (or might be so much trouble that it is not worth it) so we should not be too hasty without detailed use cases.

      The operative differences between the sub-genres is the audience, the expertise needed, and the amount of preparation before use. We are all doing work that is mixed across the spectrum, so it is critical that these information systems be integrated. It also needs to be federated because getting an entire organization to use one system seems unrealistic.

      We should indeed talk more about the decorator pattern.

  2. “so many people saw it as meaning so many different things.”
    An excellent point. Jargon is going to be the death of us all! I’ve had plenty of conversations where we kept going round and round about the same thing, only none of us could realize it because of the terminology.

  3. Reblogged this on Ovations Group Blog and commented:
    BPM is dead.. Long live BPM! Nice view from Keith Swenson on his blog, who via Mastering the Unpredictable, gave me a decent understanding of that ‘other’ BPM like thing, ACM or case management. I still love that quote on the book ad; “the most valuable work is not routine or repeatable”

  4. Pingback: Production Case Management vs. Adaptive Case Management | Collaborative Planning & Social Business

  5. Pingback: Review of “Purpose Case Management” | Collaborative Planning & Social Business

  6. Very nice post. I appreciate the clarification of sub-genres. I have a pedigree in document capture and have only gotten deeper into the genre formerly-known-as-BPM over the last couple of years. It’s been difficult to conceptualize it all as it seems like the BPM category was all-encompassing. Great work here and I look forward to learning more.

  7. Pingback: Still think you need BPEL? | Thinking Matters

  8. I love the details from the “Process Driven Server Integration (PDSI)”. This is actually how I like my BPM: a process that at the end will run and do its magic. For now I’m not into a picture that reflects the process but is static; I like to bring the design to life and to see it does something. Maybe all this because I like to focus on the services itself (so SOA) and just use BPM to map all those services into a business process. Love your blog and too bad I only found it ~ 1 year ago.

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