Writing by Peter Hilton

The process modelling trap

Why you can’t help obsessing over diagrams 2015-03-08 #BPM

PICNIC Network CC BY-SA 2.0

If you’ve had any involvement in Business Process Management (BPM), you should have heard (and heeded) warnings not to get hung up on process modelling. Many a BPM expert explains that ‘getting insight into your processes’ is a non-goal. Processes are meant to be performed, and the only value comes from the end results of these processes: results they deliver for an (internal or external) customer.

‘I don’t want better processes. I want better process results.’

- Procesje

It’s clear why it’s important not to get hung up on the process modelling - whiteboards filled with boxes, arrow and sticky notes, and beautifully produced BPMN diagrams. What’s less obvious is why this happens so much. What’s so great about the diagrams anyway?

‘Why is insight into a process so often interpreted as having process models?’

- Procesje

This article is about a theory: that process model obsession might just be related to The Zero Code Delusion - and the value of disguised programming.

The joy of modelling

The simple fact is that you focus on process modelling because you like doing it, even if you have trouble explaining why. You return to modelling because you love the challenge, an elegant solution, and how it makes your feel.

It’s a creative and intellectual challenge to find meaning in the chaos of reality, and to capture truths about the world in a process model. It’s also an aesthetic challenge to discover beauty in that truth, and to model with elegance. And finally, tweaking the diagram until everything fits and everything lines up - until it’s just right - is calming. Therapeutic, even.

‘Who’s that group that talks to everyone in our organisation and turns it all into boxes and arrows? Oh, they’re our Visio-therapists.’

- Procesje

If you’re a programmer, you might recognise the warm feeling modelling gives you, which is why there is a (great) programming conference called Joy of Coding. Sadly for BPM practitioners, there is no Joy of Modelling conference where you can indulge in everything to do with cool process models and modelling tools, and forget all about customers and other irritations.

Note: this probably has nothing to do with The Joy of Sets, a pure mathematics text book on Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory, or some other book.

The joy of coding

People who have caught the process modelling bug have in fact discovered the joy of coding, and just don’t realise it. It doesn’t even matter if you call it ‘programming’ or whether you think it’s ‘proper programming’. After all, process modelling is a form of disguised programming.

For programmers, there’s an easier distinction between programming for a customer and programming for its own sake. The latter gives rise to coding dojos, hackathons and, frankly, most open-source software. (TDD is perhaps a grey area, but that’s another story.)

A whole new world awaits BPM practitioners who give themselves permission to enjoy modelling, and escape the process modelling trap. Especially if they do it together.

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