BPMN is a well-known modeling notation. It stands for Business Process Model and Notation. Much has been discussion about this notation, however many people aren't aware of how to use this notation, and more importantly, when to use this notation. In this chat we talk to Stephen White who was involved in development of this modeling language.
Sandeep Johal: Stephen is a clear master in this field, because he was involved in the team that developed BPMN. Steve, let's start with the first question that's on my mind at least.
Can you tell us a little bit more about what BPMN is?
Stephen White: Okay, sure. BPMN defines how a specialized type of flow chart can be used to represent business processes, and as you mentioned, it's a model and notation, so it does define the graphical elements, the shapes and the markers of those elements, and it is a model since it explicitly defines the behaviors of those elements, the semantics of them, how they relate to each other, so that you could simulate or even execute or automate those business processes.
Sandeep: Great. That's good to know that it is a way to represent business processes. The question is, why does it exist in the form that it does?
Stephen: Okay. Well, it started back with an organization called Business Process Management Institute or BPMI, which formed in late 2000, and they were developing an XML execution language, a very technical process execution language, and they wanted to have a graphical notation as a front-end, and at the time, there were also competing notations and tools in the marketplace. There was a lot of them, too many. But many of those tool vendors actually got together with BPMI or in BPMI and they had to develop their own notations, so it had a lot of skin in the game, and they were involved in creating BPMN. They saw a need to create a common standard. I think the last time, we talked about what are the benefits of a common standard and these vendors, there was 25-30 of them at the time, saw that need.
Sandeep: Steve, I understand that you were involved very heavily in the BPMN development journey. Would you care to share some of your experiences of being involved in such a phenomenal initiative?
Stephen: I attended the early BPMI meeting in 2001 and volunteered to chair the notation working group when that was formed. I was fortunate that my company at the time, SeeBeyond and also later at IBM, allowed me to spend a lot of time on BPMN. I was the chair of the working group, was able to set the agenda, create the by-laws, set up all the different options for the notations that we were working on. We would discuss them and vote on them and so forth.
Actually, I found that even though we had 25 or 30 competing companies involved in this group, we were actually a very good group to work with. I was very pleased that we didn't have any major conflicts. We were all very polite and there was no issues. It was a very pleasant process, surprisingly. You would think there would be a lot more drama involved at that time but, there wasn't. It was a good experience.
We continued working on that. I ended up writing the majority of that first BPMN 1.0 specification. After a couple years, BPMN started gaining some momentum. A lot of tool vendors were supporting it at the time and eventually, BPMI merged in with the OMG, which was a larger standards organization. It had, itself, created its own process standards. Most notable was the UML activity diagram. When BPMI and BPMN came into the OMG, there was a little bit of issues there, little territorial spats. There was no major drama but there was an issue there because there were multiple competing standards there within the same organization. But, I think BPMN's success in the marketplace had helped win people over [inaudible 00:05:16]. They couldn't not support it because it was so successful, partly. The OMG did officially approve the standard and then began work on version two. Version two also included some of the larger companies which weren't involved earlier, like IBM, [inaudible 00:05:38], SMP. Given that kind of support, it even gained more momentum in the marketplace.
I continued work on that. Did a lot of the writing of that BPMN 2.0 specification and overall, that was a good experience. We finished that specification probably in 2011.
Sandeep: Could you maybe give us some thoughts on what type of scenarios you would use or most appropriate for the use of BPMN?
Stephen: Okay. In some sense, I'd like to caution more on this topic because I think my experience, people tend to think of BPMN as being business process management. Business process management, BPM, even though it has business process in the name, is a lot more than process. If you look at business process management, you have strategy, you have data, you have organization aspects, you have business roles, you have services, you have risks and policies and functions and so forth; process being one part of that. It's a key part but, it's just one part. I would caution people not to over think about what BPMN can do. It was designed to specifically deal with process and basically only process. It is not a data model. You can use your own data model and hook into BPMN. It's not a business role model, etc. It is if you need to do business processes, you would use BPMN as part of a larger BPM solution.
Sandeep: Obviously that begs the question of when not to use BPMN. Any thoughts on that?
Stephen: There are some specialized versions of business processes that BPMN doesn't cover at this point. If you're looking at a very low level model of how services interact, for example, when you're implementing a business process, BPMN doesn't really cover that natively yet, or very unstructured case management processes. It covers it a bit but probably not enough. I think we can talk about that a little bit more, later on. There are some specialized aspects of business processes where there might be other tools or models out there that would do that.
Chances are, if you're watching this video, either you or somebody you know, is in the profession of business process management, or BPM. Business process management professionals have a very unique role to play in any organization. They get to see across processes, across the organization - not just siloed departments. This view can bring so much value across the organization. Not to mention that a lot of BPM professionals are fairly smart. Having said all that, why aren't people in the whole entire organization just absolutely raging at their door, wanting them to work at every single project, every single piece of work?
BPM professionals have become ubiquitous in a lot of organizations, but they still suffer from the one challenge, which is, how can their services be continuously of value to an organization? People often question how their role brings in value. Business process management professionals have a unique point of view that stretches across the organization. All organizations tend to have some form of hierarchical structure, which business process management professionals transcend, and are able to give you the viewpoint from a process perspective. They live, they breathe, and they work the process.
Having such a unique point of view from the word go, makes BPM professionals very, very useful in any organization, but here's the thing.
When you think about firefighters, versus those people who are employed to prevent fires, which one of those two roles do you think is more sexy?
I'm guessing most of us said, firefighters. That's true. I would say the same thing. Firefighters resolve, whereas, those people who prevent fires, those people who install the fire hydrants, the smoke detectors, the exit signs, those people are the preventers.
When you've got preventers and resolvers sitting side-by-side, the more sexy heroes are always going to be the resolvers.
This is true in an organization, as well. BPM professionals, we are the preventers. We don't get the limelight like the resolvers do. This is perfectly fine, because the objective of any BPM professional is to prevent issues from happening in the future. There may be issues that you resolve right now, but the intention of true process management is to resolve things that have yet to occur. We're the preventers of future problems.
If you know where you fall within that spectrum of preventer and resolver, you understand the kind of limelight the organization receives you from. If you want to be an effective BPM professional whose door is constantly knocked for help and for support, you need to be able to provide both things.
In this week’s Process Session, we talk about the importance of selling your process model benefits using best practice marketing tactics and approaches. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
Sandeep: Selling the benefits of process modeling is difficult. In fact it’s one of the hardest things that any process modeling project undergoes. A lot of traditional ways of selling process models have been questioned before and some of them have not worked. Others may have but what we’re offering today is a fresh new way to look at how process models have been sold. More importantly the benefits of these process models.
I’d like to introduce you to Daniel Weatherhead who’s our marketing manager in Leonardo Consulting. He is here today to answer some of our questions and provide some guidelines on how process modeling or models can benefit from a marketing perspective.
Welcome to the show Daniel.
Daniel: Thanks Sandeep. It’s great to be here today.
Sandeep: So before we get into actually answering the question of how process modeling can leverage marketing, let’s get some of the basics correct first. So Dan in your point of view, what are some of the basic techniques the world of marketing can inform and can educate the people in the modeling world?
Daniel: What we’re talking about is a shift - a shift away from what we would call the old outbound marketing tactics. These are the tactics of the previous generation - the generation before. Interruptive tactics that don’t necessarily look to inform and educate but were very much placed there interruptively into people’s lives. Now think about your television ads, your radio ads, your newspaper, advertisements. These are the sort of things that shout at you. They are one-way traffic. People didn’t necessarily go seeking those messages.
Inbound marketing seeks to be different. It's where the actual audience, the reader, the customer is active in the way that they go out and source information. We as marketers or marketing communication professionals are looking to not just push a message but mostly to offer value. So we’re looking to educate and position our products and services, or the things that we specialize in – in an education realm – so we’re offering true value to the person who is on the other end. That might be the form of a blog or a video (like what we’re doing right now) or a downloadable discussion paper, podcast or some sort of a template.
Though that conversation where we’re positioning the person, business or the product as a thought leader in the space - as someone who can be trusted and relied upon. We’re not just trying to interrupt them and sell, sell, sell. More importantly is that activity needs to be follow-up actionable. With the bit of content – the market activity needs to be actionable. It can’t just be something that sits out there and doesn’t have an endpoint or followup.
So if someone reads a blog, if someone watches a video, there needs to be a clear ‘go and do this’ at the end of it.
We start to use other communication platforms like social media, targeted timely email campaigns to push those messages and push those pieces of educational content of value to the customers at the right time.
Sandeep: I think it’s interesting that you bring up inbound as opposed to the traditional ways of putting it in your face messaging, because I think in a lot of process models tend to or at least professionals in the process model industry tend to want to put models in the face of people so that they can so that they’ll think about them each time they need them.
I also like what you’re saying in a different way to approach the same problem is to draw them in, offer the value, get them excited about process models and the benefits of the process models. So bring them in as opposed to pushing it out forward.
On that note, would you offer some techniques - some specific technical steps that people listening in can follow in order to make sure that the, the benefits of process models are realized, by the audience, by the correct audience and they’re excited about having process models which as we know are valuable elements of any organization to understand the tendencies, relationships. How do we get them excited about this?
Daniel: I suppose if you strip back and you use some of those marketing tactics that marketers tend to use - it is very much knowing what you’re selling.
What actually are you selling? That’s not something that necessarily is difficult for people – most people have a good understanding of what it is that they’re doing -whether it selling be a toothbrush or an iPhone or a pair of headphones. They have an understanding about some of those key needs of the customer - but where the seams come apart in that process is that you start to not understand who we’re selling to.
Generally we talk about these big segment audiences as our target market. It might be a demographic. It might be a geographical spread about who we’re targeting. Inbound marketing looks at a much narrower focus or narrow target. We call that a persona. You might be familiar with persona. Persona is where you actually build up a profile of a target buyer. Rather than just getting small demographics, we start to think about what are the targets pain points in this area. What drives them in terms of their business? What are their challenges? How can we answer those challenges? What are the questions that they have?
What are the communication channels of this person may or may not focus on? What does their day look like? What are they do on the way to work? Do they have other pressures they bring in to their workplace? We all have other pressures we bring in to our workday - so let’s actually address those in the messaging that we do. So as we build up this persona of what this person looks like, we’re then able to execute marketing tactics accordingly.
I use ‘marketing’ in inverted commas because these tactics aren’t just in the realm of marketing. They just happen to be lumped in with us sometimes - but we can then leverage a whole range of tactics to suit that persona.
It might be the sort of information that we’re writing for them; it might be the video that we’re creating for them; it might be the sort of language we use and the way that we construct a blog post or it might be even the platform we use to reach that person. I suppose that that’s when we start to talk about communication channels.
Social media is just another form of communication. So if we think about things like emails and digital communication platforms, social media is just another way to do that - to reach people. But obviously we’ve got some of those personas to address.
How do we use social media blend to communicate accordingly those specific messages with those specific people. We might target them on Twitter or we might target them on LinkedIn. We might be using some of your internal social media channels. How do we start to engage people in a way that enables that informal conversation? We call it the 'digital watercooler' - where they might be able to share work in an open way for your team to start engaging where they may not normally. There’s a whole form of those internal platforms where people are allowed to informally communicate and chat and start to share ideas.
The whole idea is that as they share those ideas your team they will become more confident in the way that they build process models, build collaboration, build an understanding about what each other is doing in the business.
What we’re seeingis that an understanding of that persona now reaching out to a desired outcome in terms of the way they communicate and collaborating using some of those newer social media or newer communication platforms.
Sandeep: So I really like the idea of a persona and actually understanding your audience. I know that there’s tons of the internet about how to create personas and all this. So we won’t go into that in this session but certainly understanding your audience helps a lot and love the fact that there is a digital watercooler. I can just imagine that as, as you said it and input the process modeling world, the digital model cooler will actually make a lot of sense, to have a place where people can collaborate and really exploring the communication channels in which collaboration can be enabled. You talked about social media. I think that is absolutely crucial especially with the workforce that we are seeing these days.
There are so many social channels that you can explore doing that. My mom has about 11 ways to contact me - so you know, there is all of that and the organizations that I’ve been involved in especially I have seen at least 1 form of internal social collaboration point.
I think process modelers can actually leverage a lot of that and create their own digital water cooler to enable that collaboration.
So when, when I listen to all of this, I’m actually quite intrigued about what can do and how we can apply a lot of these techniques and a lot of these tactics that you speak about there. Do we wait until we’re done with process models to get excited about this -at what point in our journey should we be thinking about marketing our process models?
Daniel: As the marketer in the room I’m going to say you should be thinking about that yesterday. You should be starting right from the outset. From my perspective the reason why that should happen right from the start is because as we go about building those process models or as we go through that project and then we get to the point of starting to sell those models more broadly in the business, to have them used and useful - if we’re able to point to places on the project - even for people who are participating in the project - they can go and see where this collaboration is happening.
The great thing about social media channels most of them but they’re pretty open. They’re transparent. By building that internal transparency we’re able to see the communications that’s happening
If someone else has got the same sort of questions, they can see the exchange that is happening. We see that online every single day in the billions of forum post that go online that show us all collectively learning from each other’s questions and answers. If we can enable that within our own project and when we say enable that, we really to actually want to build those communication platforms. We want to encourage our teams to be using those.
We should be taking away that informal layer of composing a composed post and putting it out there - we want this to be a conversation - and so that’s where those Twitter like streams or Facebook like stream or, or slack like messaging apps; that’s where those tools encourage that informal conversation that go back and forth.
That again is visible and transparent by the person at the top. That needs to happen now. That needs to happen right at the start- not at the end, because then we’re starting to look back and say “Why was that conversation captured at the start?” We want to have these things captured from the start and have those strategic conversations now.
Sandeep: So it’s really common for a lot of projects especially for modeling projects to kind of leave it until the end. And I can see the, the benefit of actually starting way up ahead sooner rather than later because then you create that buzz. And not only do you create that buzz and awareness, what I’m also hearing from you is you’re creating an inclusive environment where people who are involved in projects like that can, can actually contribute to the project.
I think that that’s very valuable and, and immediately I can see some benefits - I’ll be excited if I was involved in a project way up ahead and people asking me for my input and I had some influence in the way things went.
I agree that the best time to start would be as soon as possible or at the start of the project. So, at that start of the project, would I as a process modeling professional bring along someone like yourself to be part of the team so a marketing professional, a marketing guru - someone who’s an expert in this field to come along and join me on the journey?
Daniel: Yes – as I said before, having someone who’s a communication professional involved - whether that be someone who’s a marketing person with a capital M or someone who is just engaged in leading communications for the project – who is able to point to people and say - “We need to be looking over the horizon - not just at the project we’re having to do right now but actually what’s it going to look like when we deliver this.”
Starting to think about the key personas that we’re going to have to address in the business is to get them engaged and excited. To have that person who can tie that all together, who is not necessarily doing the day to day modeling – for me that is crucial.
The job of that person that ties together all those strands, to actually help position, to help the modeler who has the expertise but maybe doesn’t maybe have the knowledge to tie that to a persona, and to tie that to an outcome, to tie that to a particular tactic - that’s where I see the role of the marketer to help in those situations.
The modeler is there just trying to do the work that he or she is trying to do - getting into thinking strategically - not just about the work they’re doing today - but what they’re doing now and how it’s going to impact someone when the modeler’s delivered of being used - that’s very, very difficult.
Having someone who’s the professional -who can create that strategic goal of what’s going to be delivered and what’s the benefit, as well as starting to that point to and create that timely bits of communication - whether that be social media or otherwise –within the organization to address those personas that have been agreed to by that team. That person is crucial for me to help build that engagement; the current engagement; the future engagement and also that excitement of delivering that unsexy model to the business.
Sandeep: So I think that, that, that there’s a lot of good insight here. I feel like world of marketing and the world of process modeling need to collaborate to in order to achieve success for any kind of process modeling project, any kind of process modeling endeavor and most importantly the process modeling journey as obviously as we all know we don’t stop at a single process, we keep going. So the ways that I can see, a lot of the principles of marketing being employed in the process modeling is more about the inbound - rather than putting it out into people’s faces - then I can also see some of the key techniques by creating the digital watercooler. I love that term.
Using personas and social media as a way to interact and understand your audience, - start at the at the word go - don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t wait until the end of the project and involve the professionals like the marketing managers of the world. Every organization, every large organization at least should have access to a marketing professional. So involve them in the project as soon as you possibly can. I think some great insights come out of this discussion. So thank you very much for your time Daniel. and I really appreciate those insights you’ve given us.
Daniel: Great chatting and all the best on your modeling journey everyone.
Sandeep: All right. Now worries at all - so if you like this video click on the like button. , be sure to connect with us, Daniel and myself on LinkedIn and follow us on Twitter – and we’ll see you next time.
Have you been asked to do a process model and you just don't know the amount of detail that you need to do a successful process model? The level of granularity that you have in your process model will determine how useful it will be.
Any process model that you create has to stop somewhere.
Now I'm not just talking about the left and right limits of that process. That's important but I'm talking about the level of detail that you place into that process. It is very tempting for us as process professionals to go in and have a look at all of the detailed processes and model those out because that's the stuff that's easy to obtain. Either by watching somebody do it or by looking up existing documentation. But when do you know it's time to stop? Well that's just as critical.
The depth of process modeling is determined by the highest level to the lowest level of modeling. The highest level being the abstract level and the lowest level being the tactical level.
So in other words, from the abstract to the tactical, you need to make some leaps and bounds about how much granularity there is. Determining this granularity and keeping it consistent will ensure that process models created across your organization are consistent with your thinking. They're consistent to provide value to the organization and consistent for any end user consuming these process models to know what to expect. The key to ensuring the right level of granularity is, revisit your purposeful modeling. The purpose of modeling defines how much detail you require in these process models. More importantly, if you're going to use these process models for say communication then you need to ensure you're capturing the what of any kind of process.
An example could be clearing of a purchase order. The ‘what’ is, well, clearing up the purchase order. The ‘how’ is the detailed steps of where to click, the five to seven or so clicks on the application that determine the successful clearance of a purchase order.
So when you're process modeling all these tiers you need to be aware of which tier you're going to use for the right purpose.
Communication tiers are usually higher and of course tactical or more detailed information is usually at the lower tiers. Once you determine the kind of granularity you require based on your purpose of modeling, you are then able to extend that onto your conventions and standards and ensure that it remains as part of the way you work going forward.
So don't forget that each time you process model, it's tempting to stay at the lower levels but you need to bring yourself up to the abstract level and work your way down. The top down approach will ensure that the depth of modeling is consistent throughout the effort of process modeling in your organization. Now I'm not saying that every single process model needs to be the same amount of granularity. It depends on the purpose. The purpose highly determines how much information you put in each process model. The higher the level, the less information and of course the lower the level, the more detail that you want to put in there.
But ensure that you know you have an end game in mind. This kind of thinking of the detail helps you identify when to stop modeling and always approach from a top down -from an abstract to a tactical level.
In life there are things that you cannot control, like the weather or the release of the next iPhone. Fortunately enough, there are things that you can, like process models. Imagine a world where everyone creates process models and there are lots and lots of people who submit in all this data into a central location. What you're gonna end up with very quickly is a mess. You don't have to imagine this. It happens right now. I share with you three very simple steps you can undertake to ensure that you've got a robust governance structure to handle this mess.
In the world of process modeling, it's often the case that a lot of people create lots of good content. Everyone has the right intention. They want valuable models, they want useful stuff, and most importantly, they want to contribute. However, very quickly, when there's a lot of people involved in creating process models, you end up with a big mess. One way to handle that big mess is to understand some structures and place some measures that you, as a leader, in this space can ensure that the content that is produced is still valuable, useful, and well-understood by everyone who use it. So here are the three steps that you can undertake to ensure good governance across process model creation.
When you create process models, and in any kind of exercise you can do creation in the form of process discovery, you can do creating in the form of documentation, or just in the form of a design workshop. When you get all this information as a modeler, you put it into a tool or transfer it onto paper or whatever means you document your process models. That's the create bit. Once that is completely done, you're going to send this process model out for a review.
The review process, which is number two, takes care of ensuring quality is injected into those process models. Every review goes through three key steps: semantics, syntactic, and pragmatic. Semantic meaning accuracy, syntactic meaning conformance to our standards, pragmatic being fit for purpose. These three checks are performed either by a peer or by a system, or a combination of the two. And there's that back and forth between the modeler and the reviewing system. Once the review is passed, these process models then head on to the next phase, which is publish.
The publish phase is a very simple step of ensuring that these process models, which are now of high quality and determined to be correct and accurate, can now be shared with the community so the consumption of these models can continue. Most organizations employ a tool of some sort to enable them to do this, but there are many other ways to do so.
So in conclusion, every process model that you create and a group of people create can end up being a huge mess. And that'll lead to models that are not accurate, not well understood. You don't want that. You want to set in strong governance structure that'll ensure that every process model that you and your team and all the modelers in your organization create is of high quality so it's well understood, well used, and accurate. To do this effectively, employ the three steps that we just discussed; create, review, and publish, on your way to a better future with many, many more valuable models.