Challenges of Being a BPM Pioneer: Part 3 - The Process Model Make-or-Buy Decision

Beyond BPM modeling technical challenges, the social or business activity of process modeling can also be either a huge opportunity or a huge challenge. If modeling is the “secret sauce” behind the promise of BPM technology, then we should understand the conditions under which modeling of any desired business process can be conducted successfully. And we should understand the cost of modeling, and how to be consistent in modeling.

Process modeling requires modeling skill, possibly even in a given BPM product, but also and importantly in business domain knowledge.

Takeaway: Social Limitations of BPM Modeling

BPM programme success is as dependent on knowing your business, as on technology. And knowing means trust and having willing participants in the process of learning.

Models aren’t built out of thin air; in addition to familiarity with the BPM software product, the most important aspect of process modeling is business domain knowledge. But when one starts to look for staff that can contribute their domain knowledge in support of automating a new process, all sorts of new challenges show up.

The idea of “tacit work” defines this challenge. Tacit work is that category of work which is done according to established practice, even informally, and often or even usually undocumented, especially by experienced staff.

The whole assumption behind BPM and process modeling is that it is possible to actually capture or specify how work is done – or should be done. But if in fact “no one knows how work is done”, then our process modeling job is much more difficult! (The challenge of knowing your business is depicted on the diagram by Phantom Arrow “X” .)

The questions of BPM business modeling are questions of “institutionalization” and “surfacing tacit work”. The two ideas are related; PMO (“Project Management Office”) and COEs (“BPM Centres of Excellence”) are examples of efforts to systematize BPM programmes, especially including the all-important domain knowledge capture and modeling phase.

Better Models With Complementary Technologies, BPM Extensions and Process Patterns

BPM models define standard flows of work as steps in a value chain. Its good to know however that BPM software technology can be easily enhanced to cover almost any business need. As we saw in the Dimensions Of BPM Technology diagram in Paper I, BPM technology starts with core functionality. And then expanding out from that core there are complementary options for even more business technology power:

  1. Make-or-Buy Modeling Economics: Why reinvent the wheel? Buying a pre-built BPM business process is a great way to speed up your programme. And even save money. The “buy-a-process” strategy however is likely only a good idea for commodity functions. Because, if you can buy a BPM business process artefact, then that process and your business isn’t unique.
    As modeling is expensive, you have to decide what to buy that’s standard for your industry -- and what you need to build that helps you define your organization uniquely. The process artefact make-or-buy decision is like any make or buy decision; managers are well equipped to assess the trade-offs.
  2. Model Quality And Complementary Technologies: Some complementary technologies are absolutely essential to good business process modeling.
    A great example is the use of a business rules engine alongside a BPM product; the technology of business rules is complementary to and irreducibly different from BPM technology.
    In circumstances where you have lots of business rules, you could certainly build a business process that supported your business requirements (using basic built-in business logic found in almost all BPM product suites). But by pulling out business rules from the business process model, and leaving them as a service in a business rules engine, one usually finds that the resulting business process (i.e. “minus the rules”) is much, much simpler – and that the set of rules is easier to manage too.

Pointer Next up in the Series -- Paper III, Part 4, Work-of-Building: The full promise of BPM software technology is realized when you build your own differentiating processes. But beyond process modeling itself note that there are important business considerations associated with how BPM process models are deployed for use..

Paper Road Map

There are four papers in the Series: Explore BPM Technology As Revolutionary Enabler:

  1. The first Paper, “Why BPM Is Unique & Important”, introduces the exciting topic of BPM software technology and why BPM so relevant to business today. Work, process and modeling are revealed as built-in to BPM software, enabling rapid construction of new business capabilities. Published in five parts.
  2. The second Paper, “Minimum Viable Definition Of BPM”, introduces the whole BPM ecosystem but then zeros in on the Minimum Viable Definition. Promotion and adoption of BPM software technology is facilitated when the unique value of core BPM is clearPublished in two parts.
  3. This third Paper, “Challenges Of Being A BPM Pioneer”, highlights technical keys to success for a BPM programme. BPM software technology is not mature, and “results may vary”. However, there are ways of narrowing the “cone of outcomes” for your BPM programme.
  4. The fourth Paper, “Adoption Process & BPM Institutionalization”, covers how BPM software technology adoption can accelerate beyond the current technology grid-lock, a process which is less about technology and more about community.

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John Morris