BPMN can bring death to your process data

Some days ago I took a ride in IBM's Lombardi Blueprint another on-line tool that let's you discover, design and document business processes and share process knowledge among your team and peers. Very aligned what today is called collaborative process management or social BPM.

In this article I don't analyse Lombardi's tool regardless I liked the way data is structured, clear, specially for non bpm experts that need to participate in process mapping and analysis, allow simple documentation (yet sufficient) with some automation provided, there is also risk analysis - very basic, probably useless. Anyway, the core feature is the capability to introduce on-line collaboration that runs smoothly.

The thing is the suite have a built in feature that can import Visio process diagrams designed using BPMN notation, meaning that you don't have to construct process diagrams all over again. Lombardi announce, or suggests, users to get rid of Visio and start using Blueprint instead.

Well, Visio importer tool doesn't work correctly (Lombardi need to fix it), but more important that the bug is BPMN drove process analysts to customised interpretations, I mean each one maps the way it wants and two people don't map a business process the same way,  even if there is a standard for that purpose. The problem is BPMN is highly complex, time consuming to draw, and I think that only pleases IT people (what UML's activity maps are for?).

To see what I mean, just take a look to the images bellow. They are screen shoots from Blueprint's Visio importer. Diagram content is in Portuguese. For the article proposes it's not necessary to understand what is written inside the boxes. The objective is to understand that once there is no unique practice mapping business processes with BPMN, the results when you are moving, updating you process data can be catastrophic.

This window shows the Process I named Inspection management, waiting for a BPMN map import.

After the import runs, it shows a dialogue box for you to choose what you mean with symbols used in Visio:
  • Lanes as a symbol is not recognised;
  • Pool also. This is the foundation for you to draw, once BPMN adopts swimlane principles that came from late 80's;
  • Sub-process is suggested to be an activity, despite the fact Blueprint identifies correctly the symbol used in Visio;
  • Gateways (there are some) are also matched with activity. Forget using other complicated gateways (who needs anyway?);
  • Start and end links, used a lot in complex and never ending process maps are matched with start and end symbols used in process kick and process end. There is no link symbols in Blueprint, because you can use all the area you want to. Anyway there should be the possibility to import it and fix it latter. There is no support for the other start and end things like exception, message, etc;

The symbol matching is done manually (imagine that you have a lot of events and other symbols in your Visio diagram).

This is the way it looks. Lost a pool, start and end links, and a complex gateway (probably the best symbol you can use, very handy when you need to map complex decisions with lots of conditions, or business rules to be evaluated) is replaced by a decision diamond !

This image is the original Visio diagram.

As stated above, I have no interest in evaluating Visio importing feature, but as the results show there is no understanding how to draw using BPMN.

I took 1 minute to convert this very simple process (1 page) actually this process is very complex it has 25 pages. Image the time you are going to waste importing it, fix it, and at the end you are going to loose information, you are going destroy your process knowledge.

This is serious. Multiply by 30 business processes maps. Have you idea of the business risk?

Have you idea that probably there isn't a process map drew the same way in you company because BPMN allowed every user to do it the way it liked?

Two weeks ago a peer told me: don't you use BPMN light? What?

This is not the end. Guys from ITP Commerce asked me to test it's product with XPDL capability to fix the above problem. I test using Arisalign that supports it. Also I took Aris tool to understand if it's possible to exchange process definitions, between platforms, because XPDL was made for it. An useful definition can be found here. ITP's Commerce complies with Workflow Managment Coalition standards.

Here I'm starting to import a very simple process. Just for the record I used XPDL 2.1 to export the this process.

Aris tells me that everything is ok. Fine.

Here is the imported process. I called Create Report. Thumbnail doesn't look very good.

As you can see there pool and lanes are ok, but where are the tasks?

This is just it looks like after fighting with the system trying to separate the objects.

This was the Create Process designed in Visio using ITP's tool. Do you understand the risks?


Nelson disse…
Did you tried with ARISAlign (www.arisalign.com) to see if it works the same way?
Ligurio disse…
Actually I did not. But this is not a tool problem.

The problem lies that BPMN is so complex to implement, that people made some workarounds, simplifying process maps. If a business process needs to be mapped (some don't like ad-hoc) it should be done in a way everybody understands it, and it can be exchanged using multiple platforms that support process notation. Once it does not happen, there is a high risk of losing process data, because you can't use things like intermediate message, or timer, that was represented in the process repository you need to move. Thus, you are sending your process data to oblivion (and BPEL, if used, also).

If process map is an asset, imagine re-training people that work in call centrer executing business processes by the book, telling that the decision gateway changed to something different, because process maps were updated to other tool. This has an impact in the way people perform tasks and in customer perception how the company execute. If process managers don't have this concern they are very far from process execution where everything happens.

BPMS systems made a promise 5 years ago that they would rest in the top of the mess, but nowadays I feel that some can't comply with it. Take IBM's Lombardy for example.

I will take I ride in Aris Align I will post something latter.
Ligurio disse…

I used www.arisalign.com and the result is a mess. Check the article update.

Regards, and thanks for the challenge.
Thomas Stoesser disse…

We are actually just working on some fixes with regards to the XPDL import.
The phenomena that you have experienced is due to the fact that some XPDL files don't contain any coordinates for the process steps. We are about to introduce a mechanism that will import an XPDL format correctly, even if these coordinates are missing.
Thanks for trying it out and sharing the results. Please don't hesitate to send us feedback if you come across things that you don't like.
Best Regards,
ARISalign Product Management
Ligurio disse…
Hello Thomas:

Your reply is the evidence that social tools really work and can be effective, if wisely used.

I don't have nothing against your company or your competitor, what I am worried about it's the fact a lot of standards promised process thinkers, managers and executers the capability of working independently the platform used, concentrating making money, rather than wasting time fixing the problems these standards brought (BPEL included, putting company knowledge in jeopardy.

Regards, and thank you for the feedback.
Ligurio disse…
Here is a very good article about the subject.

BPMN: The Question Every CIO Should Be Asking


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