Should we focus on the negative?

The WfMC and many other who help have been trying to highlight the positive examples of both BPM and ACM by collecting use cases, judging the best, and publishing in compendia.  It was Socrates who said there is value in a focus on the negative:  he would rather be refuted than to refute another because being rid oneself of evil of harboring false beliefs is better than ridding it in another.  At the risk of sounding slightly selfish, we should ask the same questions: has BPM failed, and in what ways does it fail?

It might be more important to learn the ways that BPM fails – so we can avoid them – than to only study the ways that it succeeds.  There are many vague rumors of BPM “not working” or being a waste of time, but has anyone done a serious study of cases that have failed?  Do we have any solid documentation of failure cases, what led up to them, and what went wrong?

Clearly you will not have any publication of this from BPMS vendors.  You might have evidence that “my approach is better than their approach” but rarely do you find thorough research and unbiased reporting of those findings when they come from a vendor.


If you know of a good study about BPM failure, please let me know.  Add a comment, and a reference to an article or the study with details on what really happened.  I will compile a list of such references below.

While at it, comment on the idea: should the WfMC BPM Awards give out awards in a special category for projects that failed?  There might be more to learn from the failures than from the success, but it seems so …… negative.


3 thoughts on “Should we focus on the negative?

  1. Hi Keith,

    there is no need to focus on the negative, but ignoring it is certainly wrong. I have posted on the value of failure. Falsification is too a key aspect of serious scientific work (Karl Popper).

    As BPM is mostly focused on cost cutting and is justified with the related ROI, the projects can be ‘measured’ to be successful. They simply don’t deliver beyond that on the promise of agility and customer service quality. Clearly neither vendors nor It managers want to report a project as failed. So there won’t be many studies out there. But as it happens there is no need to focus on the negative. I have asked for independent medium- to long-term studies that proof the benefit of all-out BPM in a larger organisation. I propose that it is very telling that after 20 years of BPM ‘successes’ and wide-ranging promises by BPM experts, such studies do not exist.

    So if any of you can point me to serious, positive BPM studies (not vendor sponsored anectodal evidence … aka as case studies), I would be grateful too.

  2. If you want research/study, the problem is, who is going to fund it. Not vendors, not analysts (who get paid by vendors). Practitioners have lots of empirical / anecdotal data but that doesn’t constitute research, per se. Lots of selection bias, subjectivity, etc.

    • Who is going to fund it? Indeed. Consider the NTSB: if an airplane falls apart, it gets studied. Engineers who build bridges study bridge failures all the time — it is some of the most important study. Question is: why is there no similar organization for when a business process falls apart?

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