Process Modeling:

Complexity is just a combination of simple things

Business Process Management (BPM):

How you manage complexity in a simple way

Ten years of BPM, and what’s next?

It’s now been over a decade since the BPM system was born.  Of course, process modeling has been around for much longer in formats such as workflow diagrams. BPMN was created at just the right time to solve a specific problem that workflow diagramming could not solve. It’s the fact that workflow in the Internet era rarely involved paper processes with no automation, and often involved many people in a large organization. In other words, the process had to be centered around the organization, not just the sequence of work.


BPMN introduced the concepts of swimlanes and pools.  While this was actually borrowed from UML and possibly other diagramming styles, it was the inclusion of just the right set of shapes to solve the problem of the era that made BPMN a smashing success. The evolution of BPMN 2.0 was a reflection of human-system interactions becoming more complex by 2008. Coincidentally, this is the same time period of the worldwide economic crisis.


Economic crisis tends to cause business leader to rethink their core strategies. There are two possible approaches.  One is to cut cost by cutting the workforce, or making existing workers more efficient. The other strategy is to shift their core strategy to new opportunities that could be more lucrative.  In the United States the economic crisis started in 2008. By 2009, us in the BPM business saw a lot of clients creating employee off-boarding processes. In other words, how to more efficiently fire people.  In contrast, in 2004 the primary use case for BPM systems was employee on-boarding (how to hire people efficiently).


Out of the ashes of the economic crisis emerged several important technologies that changed the course of BPM and process modeling forever.

  1. The Apple iPad.  Just at the time when the world was nearly standardized on HTML, along comes a new device that we all have to have, and by the way, doesn’t support Flash. Furthermore the lower resolution screen and smaller format requires websites to be totally redesigned.  Processes have to be redesigned as well, because now the worker is even more mobile.
  2. 4G Wireless, and WiFi everywhere.  Just at the time when the iPad is coming out, both land-based and cellular-based mobile Internet speeds surpassed that of typical DSL land lines from just a few years earlier.
  3. HTML5.  Well, actually not just HTML5, but also CSS3 and a new version of JavaScript, along with web browsers such as Chrome, Firefox and Safari that supported these standards.  Most browsers on iPad and Android started out from scratch at this level and did not carry forward legacy thinking.
  4. Social Media.  Now one person has a voice that everyone in the world can hear in just a few milliseconds. In the past, by the time you took the time to write an angry note you probably would have cooled down a bit. But now you can share you anger and make it a permanent, negative mark on a company’s or persons’ reputation in just seconds.
  5. The Cloud.  Infinite storage and computing power for a tiny fraction of the cost of just a few years earlier. Suddenly nobody wants to actually own software, or even rent it. It should all be free, right?  Then if I want certain features I’ll subscribe for just a few dollars per month.
  6. Big Data.  Now that we have 100’s of devices generating huge amounts of data on social networks and GPS streams tracking people’s whereabouts, where do you put it?  In The Cloud, of course.  Oh, and we should monitor it with nice charts, graphs and put a dashboard on it, right?  Sounds like the old BPM BAM use case but let’s call it “Analytics” instead because it sounds sexier.  😉


When you add these things together, suddenly the use case for the BPM system (and much of the BPMN spec) doesn’t look as compelling as what it used to. The process patterns evolving from this new cloud and big data environment are far different than the HR and back-office processes that started BPM back in 2002.  Those process patterns still exist. However, they are no longer the strategic focus of major corporations. There are three possible reasons I would like to point out:

  • The focus has shifted towards new business opportunities, and not necessarily cutting cost or making workers more efficient.  With the economy in recovery mode the focus will be on putting workers on new projects, which will probably use new software, that has many BPM concepts already built-in.
  • Much of the value proposition for BPM systems has been absorbed into industry-vertical systems such as insurance, manufacturing, etc. In other words, most aspects of BPM software have become a commodity.
  • We who live in the Cloud era now believe that business applications should be free or cheap, and I should be able to download an app in minutes. Who has time to build it?  (I have so much social networking to catch up on)

This is not to say that BPM will die.  But I am saying that BPM is no longer a strategic IT initiative as it was 5 years ago.  At this point it is well known that less than 15% of all business processes can be automated via a BPM system. The other 85% is being filled by something else.


In theory you should still be able to model these processes, even though they are not on a BPM system. BPMN is supposed to enable you to do this, right?  Well, I say not anymore.  BPMN is still valid if it matches the use cases for what it was intended. However, there are new use cases emerging that BPMN cannot solve.  One could argue that BPMN 3.0 might be a possible cure to the problem.  But from my point of view, I disagree.


The problems we are facing in the era of 2013 – 2018 will be far more complex than what can be modeled in something like BPMN.  The inclusion of business rules, logic and events will become standard practice in all process modeling. Otherwise, the only value you can capture in BPMN is the top level super-blocks and not show any sequence of things actually getting done.  This is because a process is defined as “a pre-determined sequence of events”.  If you cannot pre-determine the events, you don’t really have a process.  And if you have all of your participants running around fully mobile and socializing directly and indirectly through hundreds of cloud applications, it’s pretty hard to pre-determine any process path.  Instead, you have a bunch of micro-processes that somehow interact with each other in an intelligent way, yet are governed by a loose, semi-structured process.  That doesn’t sound like what BPMN was designed to do.  You could get really creative and build huge diagrams in BPMN that accurately depict social behavior, but good luck with that. Nobody will be able to read it because it’s far too complex.


So what’s the next innovation in process modeling?  Stay tuned.  In future posts I will begin to describe the problem space and the solution.



Looks like Process Modeling and BPMN is a hot topic this year

I have for the most part been inactive in my blogging and writing, mostly due to life getting in the way.   But occasionally I take a look at where my ranking is at on Amazon when I type ‘BPMN’ or ‘Process Modeling’.   The ranking varies day to day.  But today, to my surprise, the book was in the number one spot.   Tom and I are amazed at how well the book is selling.   Thank you all for your support.   To me, this seems to be an indicator that Process Modeling is becoming more mainstream every day.  The book is ranking quite well in the management sciences category, which leads me to believe that Process Modeling in BPMN is not so much a niche market anymore.  Furthermore, trends of BPM product sales are on the rise.   But it’s not necessarily BPM automation systems (BPMS) that are on the rise.  Stand-alone and collaborative modeling tools are also becoming more popular as well.

For those of you who have not gotten your copy yet, we have a special price on the Kindle version right now at $9.90.

The Microguide to Process Modeling in BPMN 2.0: How to Build Great Process, Rule, and Event Models

  Kindle Edition  or   Paperback Edition 


New Process Modeling BPMN 2.0 book released

It’s with great pleasure that my writing partner Tom Debevoise  and I announce that the Microguide to Process Modeling in BPMN 2.0 has been released on this week.  You can purchase the book on Amazon.  This book is a culmination of many years of process modeling experience, and introduces new, modern trends of blended process, event, and decision modeling styles.  The book is jam packed with information in a concise, easy to read format. To our knowledge, there is nothing else on the market like it.


There is a special reduced introductory price, so be sure to get your copy before the price goes up.  Also note that the Kindle version will be released around the end of July 2011.  There are few process modeling / BPMN 2.0 books available for Kindle, and this is the one to own.



An updated guide to business process modeling covering a broad range of necessary topics for understanding the new era of process design. A must-have book for business analysts, IT architects, and anyone interested in driving process improvement with a more efficient means of communication. The concise materials in this book focus on modern process design. Developed from actual practices, these techniques are proven in many of the most advanced processes, in production today. More than BPMN 2.0, the book is about Process modeling 2.0 concepts which stress decision and event modeling.

  • Most important topics related to business process modeling.
  • Quick guide to OMG’s BPMN 2.0 notation.
  • Common patterns based on proven design.
  • Decision modeling and business rules patterns.
  • Event processing patterns.
  • Combined process, decision, and event modeling.
  • Characteristics of various process types.
  • Process Modeling Framework (PMF) for consistent, structured design
  • Process Discovery through effective requirements gathering techniques.
  • Considering the organization as part of process design.

A special thanks to Jessica Holbrook for the beautiful cover design, Robert Kern for the easy to read layout, and Dr. Richard Welke for the forward.


The Microguide to Process Modeling 2.0: Almost there

After many complications of changing the focus of the new book, and then changing employers half way through writing, we are done.  It’s only two years behind schedule.  But I can tell you that it’s probably worth the wait.  Tom D. and I have written a book that is not only about the BPMN specification.  It’s about process modeling, with BPMN as the means to express the concepts.   We are calling the book The Microguide to Process Modeling in BPMN 2.0, which is a combination of what we call Process Modeling 2.0 and the BPMN 2.0 specification in one.   The BPMN 2.0 content comprises about 40% of this book, and the rest is focused on process modeling technique.

In this new book we are  including some new groundbreaking material about merging business rules and complex event processing along with traditional process modeling.   According to most leading industry analysts (Gartner, Forrester, IDC, etc), we are at a point where techniques and technologies are merging.  This level of complexity and sophistication requires an overarching governance methodology to be successful.   For this reason I included 30+ paged dedicated to the Process Modeling Framework (PMF).   Thirty pages is not nearly enough on this topic, but at least it’s enough to get started with understanding layered process structures.  The Microguide book strategy is to give a jump-start on the topic of process modeling but yet provide enough details to use the content in the real-world.

I still have plans to publish the process patterns book and the more detailed PMF book.  But because of my fairly recent career path change, my perspective has greatly changed. And, the industry as a whole has changed since 2008.   We are now in the fourth wave.  Therefore the content I had previously created has to be updated.

Keep your eyes open for the new book.  It should be showing up on by mid June 2011.   And thanks again for everyone’s support on making the search term “BPMN” on list my previous book in the top three.

– Rick Geneva

BPMN lecture at Georgia State University April 15 2010

Rick Geneva will making an appearance as a guest speaker at the Georgia State University Robinson College of Business on April 15th, 2010. This class is particularly interesting to me because it’s for business students, and they are learning BPMN as part of their curriculum. Not only are they learning BPMN, but also how to turn a diagram into an executable process. It’s wonderful to see such a program appearing at universities these days. Many thanks to professor Olsen for inviting me.

My guest appearance will include about an hour of lecture. I will be discussing multi-tier process design and the Process Modeling Framework (PMF). Up until this point the students have been mostly working in two dimensions. The PMF adds another dimension of detail which takes into consideration the organization where the process will be performed. Most process diagrams focus on who does what, and are divided into swimlanes. This is fine for simple diagrams, but in the real world it’s not that simple. There are politics involved, different owners of different parts of the diagram, and the need to change some parts independently of others. So my intent for this event at GSU is to inspire business students to look beyond the people who do the work, and start to look for the why it’s done, in the context of the larger organization.

Following the lecture presentation I’m going to do a Q&A session and a demonstration of the Process Modeling Framework in action.

– Rick Geneva

An Event Driven World

Process modeling has been going though an evolution.  If you haven’t noticed the evolution, you have either been living in a vacuum or you are still using flowcharts in Visio.   Everywhere I turn people are talking about processes and process improvement.  At least this is one good thing to come out of the economic recession.

The other trend we are seeing more of in this decade is the use of more events, and less tasks. A task that says that something happened is not a task at all; it’s an event.   To be a task it has to be something that is performed by a person, system, or process.  One could argue that everything is performed somehow, so everything is a task.  So let me ask you this:  Is it a task for the weather when it rains?  Is it a task for the highway that traffic is backed up?   Is it a task for the stock market when the NASDAQ drops by 100 points?    If I can’t put a performer to the task, it can’t be a task.
Read more »

Savvion merges with Progress Software

More industry consolidation

In a previous post I wrote about IBM buying Lombardi, and noted that I expect to see more industry consolidation.  Well, we didn’t have to wait long to find out which merger is next.  They say things  occur in threes, so I wonder which BPM company is next….

The IBM acquisition of Lombardi was interesting because IBM needed to fill the department level workflow product need.  This is where Lombardi is being positioned, according to IBM.

Progress software’s move for Savvion was much more interesting because Progress did not have a BPM system, or history of workflow systems.  Instead, Progress has a wide range of SOA systems and tools, and a strong offering in the CEP (complex event processing) and BTA (business transaction assurance) space.   With these offerings, Progress would more likely be positioned to sell products and services to the IT architecture crowd more so than the business.  Now with a full  stack of BPM, CEP, transaction monitoring, ESB, and data services, Progress is very well positioned to be an aggressive competitor in the BPM market.

I’m very interested in this Progress and Savvion merger because it shows the BPM industry is evolving into more event oriented processes instead of people centric activity.   CEP (complex event processing) refers to the idea that things happen that are not necessarily all part of a process.  For example, I can correlate streaming data from traffic, weather, positions of my delivery vehicles (from GPS), and incoming orders from my order system.  In a BPM world these events would only come together when they are relevant to a given activity.  In an event driven world, these events could potentially affect each other at any time, regardless if there is an active process task or not.  Many of these might not even be part of the BPM system.  When the filtered events are correlated to something interesting, a process action can be signaled. Examples of process action include starting a new process for corrective action.  You could also interrupt, continue, or end a process that is in-flight.

The over-all strategy of CEP + BPM means that there is less integration time for systems. Instead of routing all event activity load through the BPM system, the CEP system handles complex correlations of events, and aggregates them down to things that a BPM system might be interested in.  Also, you can get a broader perspective of multiple process instances simultaneously, especially when activities are in-flight.  For example, a delivery truck is running late.  With BPM only, it’s likely that you would not know this fact until the truck is overdue.  With CEP, I can constantly monitor all trucks via their GPS signal, and report all positions to a dashboard. Furthermore, you can correlate to traffic data in-route, and determine exactly how late the truck will be.  This allows an organization to react to exceptional conditions in real-time.   Keeping in mind, most transport companies (and other industries) do this sort of monitoring anyway, but not automatically.  Without CEP + BPM capability, you would have to perform these correlations manually, which might require a huge workforce.  The key here is that the events are reported in real-time, and the event correlations are more accurate.

Highlights from BPMN 2.0: New Event Types

What’s new in BPMN 2.0: Part 5

Continuing coverage of the BPMN 2.0 specification, this post will focus on the new event types.   Prior to 2.0, BPMN had several problems when it came to escalating events and dealing with events in parallel.  Often I would end up using a pattern with multiple loops inside of loops to accomplish seemingly simple activities. Furthermore, it was difficult to distinguish between human centric and system centric activity for a mixed-mode diagram that includes both.

One goal of BPMN is to bring the SOA camp, the business analysts,  and the process modeling communities closer together.  A side effect of this has been that BPMN is very messaging intensive. For complex interactions, multiple pools are used, which requires lots of messaging lines to keep activity in sync between participants .  This is sometimes a problem for people who come from a flowchart/workflow backround using tools such as Visio, which essentially allows you to create a really bad BPMN diagram due to the lack of diagram validation.  Often I see messaging lines within a pool going between lanes, when what was really intended is to do a simple escalation.  Antoher common problem prior to BPMN 2.0 is showing enough detail without having to show the intricate patterns of looping and dealing with multiple events in parallel.

We are starting to see a shift from multiple pools and lanes to more of a style based on a single pool with no lanes, which means less explicit messaging notation. On the other hand, we are starting to see more capability in BPMN to document highly technical processes for the SOA community.

New Event Types

In this post I will cover the new BPMN escalation event and parallel multiple event. Read more »

IBM makes a consolidation move with Lombardi

This week IBM announced that they area acquiring Lombardi Software.   I suspect this will be the first of several industry consolidations in the coming months. The market is heating up in the BPM space, and it’s only natural that the major players are jockeying for position.  I wonder who’s next?   And I wonder how well my former colleagues at Lombardi are making out on those stock options (I parted ways with Lombardi in 2006).

Your thoughts?

I’m curious to see what some of you other BPM professionals think about this acquisition, and if anyone has any predictions for more consolidations.  Comments welcome.

Highlights from BPMN 2.0: Non-Interrupting Events

What’s new in BPMN 2.0, part 4.

BPMN 2.0 adds a lot of new concepts.  Many of these are long overdue to be added to the spec.  Others are a totally new concept.  In this post we are going to take a look at one of the long-overdue fixes to the BPMN specification; the intermediate events on the subprocess border.

In previous versions of BPMN, placing an event on the subprocess border meant that when the event was triggered, the exceptional flow would become active.  Also, this means that normal flow stops.  In the diagram below, subprocess A ceases when the timer event is triggered.  Instead, the “handle timeout” subprocess is active at that point.  In other words, subprocess A has been interrupted.

Intermediate Interrupting Event

Intermediate Interrupting Event

There is another use case that BPMN 1.2 did not cover.  What if the timer event isn’t supposed to interrupt subprocess A?   Just to clarify, in the BPMN 2.0 specification, Interrupt means that the parent subprocess will end.  This is similar to a cancel, but cancellation is another concept and another shape entirely.  So it’s called interruption.  There is another use case for non-interrupting events that has long been a challenge prior to 2.0.

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