BPMN is great, but no silver bullet. Tap into 30 years of experience

Kim Hellum

We haven't done BPMN for 30 years. Not Business Process Model and Notation, as defined by the Object Management Group. But we have done business process optimization for that long.'s what we do for a living:

We make companies more efficient and people’s lives at work easier.
We replace processes involving paper, Post Its, Emails, and spreadsheets with easy to use software.

And both we and BPMN are doing well, thank you (smile)

30 years of evolution

Of course we have used different tools throughout the years.

30 years of making good business run better, do call for evolution.

Way back

When we started some 30 years ago the need to automate and optimize business processes was already there.

The degree of flexibility in the solutions we delivered in those days was not that big.

Typically we teamed up with the IT department — at that time kept well away from the people running the business.

We'd agree who of us should take on the challenging task of diving into the blazing flames and go — interview real-life users in the business.


Once back from the scary experience of real-life challenges, we took out our favorite tool and welded together a great piece of software.

Once finished — sometimes after a long time of welding — we shipped the finished solution to the business users.

Users were mostly happy with what we delivered. We were rather good at interviewing, and great at welding. And then again, what was their alternative?

Still sometimes things had to be modified. If for nothing else, then when the real world changed.
We then brought the software back into the factory, took out our tools, and did the needed modifications.

Users now happy that their processes were easier than before.

You may smile at the above, but this was best practise back then.

And still we made a difference.
We did make companies more efficient and people’s lives at work easier.

Introducing flexibility

The clock is ticking, and luckily nothing stays the same.

Over time we learned that flexibility has big value, and technology advances helped us implement this.

Now we didn't need to take the software back into the factory to do modifications. As long as you had the right tools, and the formal training needed, you were able to make quite substantial modifications and adjustments at the local garage.

Or even on-site. A major move forward for everyone.

You can do lots of modifications and adjustments. But you still need specialized tools and skills.

BPMN and the promise of unlimited flexibility

Requirements change, and so do the possibilities.

Along came BPMN 2.0 — finally a mature and proven version of BPMN (Business Process Model and Notation).

With the promise of unlimited flexibility, and the ease of point and click — drag and drop. Now anyone can do their own business processes over night — right?

WRONG. I must admit, we got it wrong too at first. But it is wrong. Period.

Just because something has a point and click user Interface doesn't necessarily make it easy. I wouldn't trust any of you, or myself for that matter, with the above control panel. Unless you are a trained nuclear power plant operator.

The same applies to running BPMN in a production environment.

The educated use of BPMN

Luckily we have gained experience with BPMN, and we have learned that business processes are relatively static.

As a manager you don't refactor your processes overnight, and expect the organization to behave differently in the morning.

And if you did, are you then sure that you know exactly what even the smallest consequence is — also for the work already in progress?

No, refactoring takes planning. Analysis and planning. Nothing new here.

What you do need

What you do want is to influence the decisions made inside your processes.

If you need to change the threshold for a management approval from €1,000 to €1,500. Or the accepted deviation on purchase orders from 2% to 3%. You want to be able to do this without specialized tools and certified training.

Or even better. You would want the decisions in your processes to reflect the real-world.

To tap into the sensors, the data, and the systems you already have in place.

This is the flexibility you really need. Nothing more. Nothing less.


Let me briefly recap this blog entry.

  • We have done business process optimization for 30 years.
  • 30 years of evolution leads to an educated use of BPMN
  • BPMN will not replace software engineers and business analysts
  • BPMN is no silver bullet
  • BPMN still has many valuable benefits

Next post

In my next post I will share with you why BPMN is so valuable — now that we have learned that it is no silver bullet.

I will demonstrate to you that where you want to be, is exactly where we have positioned Next Processes and the derived products Next Invoices, Next Contracts etc.

And finally, I will elaborate on how this has influenced the architecture of Next, and the strategic prioritization of our software engineering.

Stay tuned.


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