Posted by: Adam Deane | 08/09/2010

BPM: Who is a Business User?

BPM: Business UserThe Business User
“BPM for the business users”…
Who is this business user everyone is talking about?

Are we referring to Business Analysts, Enterprise Architects, Task Analysts
or also to the other business roles in the organisation?

At a time when we’re asking IT to learn new skills and to be more business oriented, is it too much to ask Business to learn new skills to support process improvement? (Scott Francis)

Yep… Business Analysts and EAs should learn BPMN. It’s part of their skillset.
But what about the rest of the people that participate in a BPM project?
The department head, the risk manager, the programme manager, the VP, the IT manager, the project manager, the CFO, the…
Are they not business users? Are we expecting them to learn BPMN?

Understanding a process diagram
Think about the weekly review in the boardroom with all the relevant sponsors,
What about John, the department head. He’s nodding his head up and down and looking impressed.

It would be really scary if those responsible for the operation of multimillion dollar enterprises can’t take on the meaning of a set of symbols that can be put on a small wallchart (Dave French)

John, the department head is not going to say that he doesn’t understand, and I’m not going to start teaching him new skills.
Does everyone else in the room really understand the diagram. Should I pull out the flowchart powerpoint?
Why is everyone so quite…

And what about Adrianne from the Finance Department (the people that we are actually creating the process for).
She is the process owner. She won’t be touching the tool, nor will she learn BPMN.
Her job is finance, that’s what she does, that’s what she does well.
She has seen flowcharts before, but doesn’t understand the swimlane concept.
Am I to tell her “tuff luck” when she says she doesn’t understand the diagram?

It would be arrogant to suggest that business users just need to hunker down and learn BPMN to be effective. (Keith Swenson)

To show or not to show
Why does a CFO, CIO or even a CEO need to understand BPMN symbols? Is it part of their day-to-day skillset?
And what if they don’t understand swimlanes, or understand what the annotations are doing there?
Should I show them the diagram and take a risk that the meeting will turn into a debate over symbols instead of the process? Or should I show them a powerpoint flowchart instead?
Should I not show them the real process diagram (of a process that they will be approving and paying for)?

Think about that important presentation to the board, or to an executive that you are trying to get onboard, to show them what we’ve accomplished till now.
Would you show them a process diagram? Really?

My Point
BPMN is not the problem.
The visual format of the diagram is the problem.

Solution ?
Showing process diagrams in a flowchart format is more intuitive than the standard BPMN swimlanes.
The simple solution, I believe, is adding a button to the tool that enables two views: Swimlanes, and Flowchart
A simple button that transforms the BPMN design into flowchart format. The flowchart should be read-only for viewing only.
(By the way.. another view that I’d like to see: a view in XML, for the techies)

The blame game
The whole debate around “BPMN usage by business people” is great fun.
Everyone chipping in, a bit of mudslinging… great fun..
But who is not participating in the debate.. the BPA vendors., the modeling tool vendors… The people that should be held accountable.

The future
BPA and process modelling haven’t changed in years. Dinosaurs!
You want the future?
Process designs are complex in 2 dimensions.
How about showing them in 3D.
Think about going into a weekly review meeting and giving the participants 3D glasses (like in Shrek3).
Move the process model around. Search for the bottleneck. Bloody Fantastic!!
(By the way, the technology already exists – Silverlight and others)….

But I’m not asking for the future.
Adding a simple flowchart view to the swimlane view will be enough for me…

The bottom line
Nothing’s wrong with BPMN. Leave it alone…
Yelling at BPMN is not the way forward. It’s like yelling at the moon.
Hold the BPA vendors accountable.


  1. Adam, you’ve hit the nail on the head.

  2. I think you make a lot of good points Adam. BPMN has a place and isn’t the issue. I am not sure it is quite so simple to just say its a vendor problem either though. There are vendors who produce software that doesn’t depend on BPMN and is capable of representing business processes to business people. The trouble is they are under pressure from some quarters to conform to the BPMN / process automation agenda and being pulled away from exactly what you say is required. I think you can push the vendors for what you want, but I think you might be shouting in the wrong direction.

  3. “BPA and process modelling haven’t changed in years. Dinosaurs!” – maybe its because you don’t mess with a good thing! I have to agree with you that some of us just seem trapped in doing the same things the same way in all circumstances. That’s just plain wrong.

    No, I completely understand. In fact a great tool I’m using to help people understand processes at a range of levels of detail is Prezi. This is my first attempt:

    Sure, its marketing’y, but I think that the ability to build simple flows into multiple levels of detail is impressive. And the viewer can break out and follow their own train of though if they need to.

    Nice post Adam.

  4. […] lire sur le même sujet, ce post d’Adam Deane (UK) BPM : who is a business user. Libellés : […]

  5. I agree BPMN should not be blamed.
    On the topic at large, let me point tomy comment to another of your nice posts: “The BPM sweetspot” (

    My thesis is: it’s good to have business process models, to have a notation, to standardize it, to make people (analysts and experts) use it.
    But I’m fully with you: you cannot expect ALL the kinds of users to adopt it.

    I think each user needs the right tool. For some it can be BPMN (full), for some it can be a simplified notation, but for some (typically the end users) it must even be a running prototype of the application. In our experience this let us identify a lot of process issues that no customer ever spotted in the BP models (although in principle they were able to understand the notation).

    • Hi Marco,

      I agree. Each user needs the right tool. Make it simple for them to use.
      Get it up and running as soon as possible so that the customer can provide real feedback as soon as possible.


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