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BPMN 2.0: The day they created a better world

Open the champagne bottles, invite your neighbours over for a celebration because the glorious day has finally arrived: BPMN 2.0 is here – next stop THE CLOUD.

I’ve actually made a small bet with myself: Out of the first 15 BPM vendors I’ll visit at this years CeBIT, 10 will feature BPMN 2.0 as the main sales argument. It won’t be about what and why, it’ll only be about the ‘how’. Oh what fun to look forward to, should an unsuspecting manager dare to ask how BPMN will benefit his company in better managing his business processes …

Should you detect a slight bitterness in these lines, you’ re probably right. To my mind, BPMN will turn out to be nothing more than a giant smokescreen for vendors to hide behind. As I can already see people lining up with heavy and no doubt sharp-edged implements hidden behind their backs, let me at least offer two explanations for my lack of enthusiasm:

  • Had we had a standard modelling notation right from the beginning, it would have been alright and the goals associated with BPMN might even have been achieved. Take a standardized set of components on which everyone shares the same (identical!) understanding and yes, all sorts of misunderstandings and problems might have been avoided. As it is, we are now well into the third generation of process designers not only familiar with particular tools and their specific notation types but these tools have shaped the process designers way of thinking and in many cases their companies’ way of thinking about processes. Not that this could be called a success in all cases, but the mindset is developed and it’s out there. So now people will have to be ‘untrained’ first (did anyone see yesterdays headline ‘Is BPMN the death of eEPC?’) only to be trained in BPMN later. (Only a real cynical mind would link this to the BPMN training offers I’ve found in my mailbox these past few days)
  • BPMN will kill off any discussion on what to model. We’ve seen it in the past and I’m convinced we’ll see it again here: It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do it with the right tools and methods. Will BPMN be an enabler for companies to improve processes? Hardly. Do I, in my role as a customer, get the impression that unsatisfactory process experiences are the result of up until now lack of BPMN? I don’t think so. It’ll be mainly the same processes designed with the same mindset, only now it’s in BPMN.

Having said that, BPMN will be a success – at least when measured by uptake from vendors and clients. We will see a lot of migration projects, demand for BPMN process designers is rising and let’s be honest, some very clever and experienced people have worked on getting BPMN to this stage. But it still leaves me with the question of if we’ve in any way moved towards a better management of processes. I have my doubts.

Somehow I find myself reminded of the interface-standards discussion of 15 years ago when the WfMC developed a set of specifications for general interfaces between design tools and workflow engines, between different workflow engines etc. Net result? Niente, nada, nothing…apart from customers suddenly asking if workflow engine X was interface 5 compatible. (‘Why? Do you want to run a process across different workflow systems?’ ‘No, but we value standards’)

BPMN will be the Stock-Aitken-Waterman approach to process modelling. Perfect technical production, highly successful and absolutely no lasting value. It’s plastic pop culture entering the process arena. Give me AC/DC any time.

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5 Comments

  1. Bjoern Welchering says:

    Thomas,

    spot on !!! Great analysis of the situation BPMN is in right now, and will always be.

    There are already meetings and discussion on 2.1 and even 3.0 !!! When will this madness end?

    But I disagree on one end: BPMN like Stock-Aitken-Waterman? First: That was music for the masses, but BPMN can´t be understood by the masses – and this will (probably) never change, second: Artist of SAW changed over time and did great stuff (See Kylie).

    Wish you a rocking weekend

    Bjoern

  2. [...] BPMN 2.0 – Thomas J. Olbrich Open the champagne bottles, invite your neighbours over for a celebration [...]

  3. Robert Lohne says:

    What’s the alternative then, and how is that standard different from BPMN?

  4. Thomas J. Olbrich says:

    Robert, that’s just it: The alternative to what? And why? In what areas will BPMN – or any standard for that matter – provide improvements for enterprises?
    We will still have different perceptions and views on processes, depending on what our job is, what our experience is, what I (as an individual) regard as fact… . Having a common language won’t change that.

    But maybe my view is simply based on my impression that BPMN – while not wrong – in blown out of all proportions. It will hopefully do some good in the area of process design, but as for process execution – I don’t think so, and let’s not even talk about managing and keeping control of processes. So really my issue is not with BPMN as such but more with the fact that vendors are again using the M in BPMN to sell Business Process Management.

    Thomas
    (Early morning comment, so I hope it makes some sort of sense)

  5. Bjoern Welchering says:

    Robert, Thomas:

    From my point of view it comes back to the fact, that we have to listen to the “BUSINESS” in BPM more than we did until now.

    If a great supporter of BPMN and one of the leading provider of a BPMN solution openly talks about the flaws of the new “standard” notation (see the keynote on http://www.bpm2010.org), than the BPMN community has a significant problem.

    Processes are the main issue for executives all around the world, but I have not seen a single busines paper, that now, after BPMN 2.0 is officially released, the world is saved, and processes will go into execution so much easier. Instead, we as the community (again), believe, that it is over now, and we have found the holy grail to bring BPM to the masses, to bring BPM to social.

    Well, I do not believe it is over, but that´s because I do not believe in BPMN at all.

    Bjoern

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