BPMS Watch: Learning to “Do” BPM

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Business Relationship Manager - Product Lifecycle Management, Chevron Corporation

Recent research by Professor Yvonne Antonucci of Widener University turned up an amazing finding.  Her survey of 146 companies involved in BPM attempted to answer the question, “Is there a gap between current and needed process skills in organizations today?” What she found was a whopping 54% of companies said they wanted to send employees to external BPM training but were “unable to find appropriate training mainly because they did not know what training was needed.”

What do you need to know in order to “do” BPM? Conferences and white papers focus on what BPM is, where it’s going, its guiding principles, who’s done it successfully, and a bit about the tools and technologies. But exactly how to do it?  Not so much.

That learning typically takes place in a training environment, such as the one BPM Institute conducts in parallel with the Brainstorm BPM Conference series. In these training programs, the BPM Institute is increasingly adding structure to the curriculum to provide a logical progression from understanding the basic principles of BPM to courses on process modeling, specific methodologies, and BPM tools and technologies. This structure not only helps organizations with the question of where to start, but provides the foundation needed to actually “do” BPM.

My initial foray into user training was related to tools and technology for process execution and monitoring, so-called BPM Suites: workflow, integration middleware, business rules, and BAM, what each piece does, and how to pick the right product for your own business process. I’ve been doing that for two years with the BPM Institute.

But I’ve discovered that many people getting into BPM are not yet ready for that. They’re still trying to learn the basics.  They’re starting at the beginning. Once they get the What is BPM? part, the first thing they want to do is to model their current or as-is process, analyze its shortcomings, and perhaps model improved to-be processes.  So I believe the number one thing users want today in BPM training is how to do that – a step-by-step approach, a methodology for process modeling.

Who are these users? Typically they call themselves business analysts, perhaps process analysts or business architects, or maybe members of a BPM project team or center of excellence. They’re not developers. Although they might sit in the IT organization, their perspective is that of the business. The essential skill these users are looking for is how to organize their thinking about their own business processes in an effective way, and then how to translate that thinking into the structure of a model.  Again, it’s not the What is it? part. These users want to know How do I do it?

“Doing” process modeling immediately confronts the user with the choice of a tool. There’s a big difference between a model and a doodle. A model has structure, rules, and some level of analysis built in.  It needs a tool.  But which one?  Historically, process modeling tools have been proprietary. Many of these are excellent tools, some quite elaborate and expensive, and each tool vendor offers its own methodology and training around that particular tool.  But that means users need to bet on a particular tool before they really understand what process modeling is, or how to do it.

In the past year or so, we’ve seen a surge in interest around BPMN, an OMG standard for business process modeling. Because it is a standard, the notation – the shapes and lines and rules –  is common to multiple tools, so users have a wide choice of tools supporting the same diagram semantics. That makes the tools less expensive, and in some cases free. Since the spec is public, you don’t even have to buy a tool to understand the notation.

BPMN is a bit different than traditional flowcharts or swimlane diagrams. Those notations came out of a human workflow paradigm, in which a process is largely defined by handoffs between people. BPMN supports human workflow, but it also supports SOA, the notion that a process can also orchestrate the various IT systems around the enterprise through service interfaces. So it includes support for things like events and transactions, and makes exception handling explicit in the process model.  Thus if you use BPMN to its fullest, you could say it is perhaps more challenging conceptually than traditional flowcharting.

OMG says proudly says that BPMN has no built-in methodology. They mean that it can be used in a wide variety of ways, from high-level process description to performance analysis to even generating process implementations in BPEL and other execution languages, and a methodology should be employed that is appropriate to the specific purpose.  But OMG provides none.

So you have the situation here of a popular standard, perhaps more challenging than familiar flowchart diagrams, with no vendor-provided methodology and training, and no OMG-provided methodology.  Meanwhile, the number one thing new users in BPM want to know how to do is process modeling.  That’s the need we’re trying to fill with the new training Process Modeling with BPMN.  It provides a methodology for how to organize your thinking about end to end processes, and then how to translate that thinking into the notation.  We show you how to do top-down modeling using BPMN subprocesses, and how to expand the model, drilling down to add detail as needed.

We show you how to use BPMN at three distinct levels: 1) descriptive modeling, the kind most BPM consultants typically talk about – high-level, not especially rigorous, but easy to communicate across the organization, linked with a methodology for how to do it; 2) analytic modeling, more detailed, showing the exceptions – all the steps needed, for example, to analyze process performance using simulation; and 3) executable modeling, where BPMN can actually generate implementation code. This is really execution-language dependent, so the training focuses mostly on levels 1 and 2.

The training is offered in 3 sections. The first part focuses on the subset of common diagram patterns needed to capture as-is and describe improved to-be processes using a top-down how-to methodology.  The second part focuses on events and exception handling, the aspect of BPMN that goes beyond traditional workflow and is admittedly harder for some business people to grasp. It’s really not that hard, and you really need to model at this level in order to analyze process performance. The third part shows you how to run your model through a simulation engine to analyze process performance. That’s not part of the BPMN spec, but it is a part of most process modeling tools, so we show you how to do it in three specific use cases: cycle time improvement, optimizing resource utilization, and activity based costing.  In the training, users get a mix of theory and hands-on with an excellent BPMN tool. Hands-on with a tool is a critical part of the training. You might think you understand BPMN from the lecture material alone.  Doing the exercises with the tool helps you understand it at a deeper level.

This training is brand new. We’re offering it both online on-demand through BPMessentials.com, and in a classroom setting, initially through the BPM Institute training collocated with the BrainStorm conferences.  If you want to move from What is BPM? to How do I it?, you should check it out.

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