Posted by: Adam Deane | 12/01/2011

PKBoK – The BPM Collaboration Project

PKBoKI’m all for initiatives, especially in the field of BPM.
I think they should be promoted and I think the people driving them should be complimented and supported. Transforming an initiative into something real is no simple task.

Collaboration projects are even harder. It’s an uphill battle. Egos are involved. People are easily offended. Content quality is questioned. Management is questioned.

PKBoK is an excellent initiative. In an industry as stagnated as ours it is great to see people taking the initiative to build something for the community.
But PKBoK, like all collaboration projects, still has some minefields it needs to avoid.

As most of you have probably managed a collaboration project before, I thought that instead of discussing it from a management perspective, it would be interesting to discuss the subject from an end-user perspective. The way it looks to an end-user, the worries, the fears, the minefields. It might help you in future collaboration projects.

I’m using the PKBok as an example because most of you are familiar with the project.
It should be easier to relate to. I’m not trying to pick holes in PKBok, just use it as an example to highlight collaboration project issues.

PKBoK – Creating a formal Body of Knowledge
The idea for a comprehensive, extensible, open source, community-driven Business Process Management Body of Knowledge came from a paper written by Wasana, Michael and Paul from Queensland’s University of Technology

The paper, “Professionalizing Business Process Management: Towards a Common Body of Knowledge for BPM” was presented at the BPM 2010 conference

Excellent. I said to myself. Queensland’s University of Technology – An independent body, not commercial driven, with community-driven content.
Can’t get better than that… and I registered my interest on their website.

Loosing the First Enthusiasm
All pumped up, I was excited to see the new initiative start rolling.
At that point I probably would have bent over backwards to do anything that would help and participate in this exciting initiative.
But a week went by, and no response. Another week went by… and no response.
My first enthusiasm evaporated.

Fear of Hidden Agendas
A month later I received an email from a consultancy company, on behalf of the Process Knowledge Initiative.
Mmmm, I said to myself.. it’s looks like the project has been highjacked by commercial groups.

I’m sure everyone has the project’s best interests at heart, but commercial led projects tend to have an agenda.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure they are not receiving money for this project and are volunteering their time as special advisors and such… but it is not the same as a University led project.

It’s human nature. People usually are more reluctant to participate in collaboration projects if they think that there might be a hidden agenda or that someone else is making a buck from their free work.

Eloi and the Morlocks
I was expecting it to be a community-driven Business Process Management Body of Knowledge, but from the email I learnt that there was going to be a Technical Expert board and a Methodology Advisory board, Working Groups… and the BPM Community.
“Great” , I said. Creating hierarchies in a collaboration project. That will be motivating. I’ll invest time and energy to write on a topic. Some “expert” will review my content. What happens if doesn’t fit the way they think it should be…

Creating hierarchies in a collaboration project is always wrong. Everyone should be equal (or at least feel that they are equal). Advisory teams should be kept quietly behind the scenes.

One School of Thought
Will the advisory board be dominated by Six Sigma experts discussing high level BPM, holding hands and singing Kumbaya… or a good cross section of the BPM community, countries, roles, and approaches?

Will they control the way contributors should think and “lead them in the right direction”? Will they allow contributors to express their views?
Will contributors feel censored or be pressured into one “school of thought”?

External Influences
There was also something about Process Knowledge Initiative Sponsors.
Sponsors? Since when does a university need commercial sponsors for their projects.
Ok.. so maybe there are a couple of administration costs…
What do the sponsors (Canadian companies and organisations) get from the deal? Logos on the website – or will they have an impact on the content.

Feeling Special
Any contributor to a collaboration project likes to feel important, that what they say is gold, and that their contribution is appreciated.
Are there any incentives for the little guys to participate, or does management expect them to because they are part of the community?

Dealing with Objections
In every organisation and in every collaboration project there are always people that raise objections (some legitimate and some just to throw a spanner in the works).
The right way to deal with them is to “win them over”: to discuss, to convince, to bring them on board. The wrong way is to pay no attention to them, hoping that the issues will magically disappear.

The last initiative that tried to force their way was the BPMN initiative.
Yes… in the end BPMN won the long and bloody battle. The great BPM war. The massacre of the other BPM standards. Years of bad blood, groups against groups, brothers against brothers… Could it have been prevented?

The proof is in the pudding. If it succeeds, PKBoK will standardize and provide an excellent knowledge centre for information and best practices on business process management.
Hopefully… that is… if it manages to clear the collaboration hurdles, get the BPM community on board… to accept it… to contribute… and work together. Good luck.

Apropos, I have no problem with the name PKBoK… but isn’t Canada spelt with a ‘C’ ?


  1. Nice Post, Adam. I took part in the ABPMP BPM Body of Knowledge for a couple of years now, and I also know the opposite perspective. Creating a community driven content is *really* painful, and actually, I am rather spectical that it can succeed anyway. In the end, there must be a rather small group of rather smart people that realize a consistent piece of work – like BPMN, where we (my small consulting company) also participated in the FTF. Otherwise, it’s just an endless discussion about the same points all over and over again.

    And we need the commercial driver, because people tend to look for other hobbies after a while, if they don’t get anything substantial out of their efforts. And a BoK that is only or mostly driven by academic people cannot answer the questions and challenges we have to face in practice. Actually, that is also a bit my concern with the future of ABPMP’s initiative.

    These days, I am expiriencing a rather good working collaboration initative in the world of BPM: Activiti, the new Open Souce BPM platform. It’s started by Alfresco, and it is surely driven by commercial interests. But there are my companies involved (us as well), and the most important thing, the people actually working together really do it because they are very passionate about BPM. And it works! But then again, this is an open source project with programmers working together (and a few business guy like me defining requirements and such). If someone talks or delivers crap, you know pretty soon, because the product won’t work. Maybe that’s the difference.

    cheers Jakob

  2. Posted by Nathaniel Palmer on LinkedIn’s Adaptive Case Management group

    Adam, this is an interesting blog post on a timely topic — you have validated my suspicions/expectations as well as echoed my sincere feelings that it should and hopefully will succeed.
    I have not gotten involved in this initiative directly out of concern for neglected other (pre-existing) commitments, although it is a mission I support and would like to be a part of. For anyone who journeyed down this path before, the obvious concern for an initiative like this is that perfect becomes the enemy of good work that almost gets there, but never makes it to that critical stage of socialization and instead is lost in the noise.
    But there are very smart and talented people involved with this, so I suspect that can be overcome.

    Yet there are two other areas where I would be curious to see commentary.
    The first is whether this does (I don’t think so) or *should* be inclusion of ACM.
    You posted your notice here, so presumably you have a horse in this race. But should the “Process Knowledge Initiative” simply make an orthogonal reference to ACM? Or should ACM be a definitive node in its definition?

    The second is area of thought is the whole “BOK” notion and the implications for this.
    Specifically, whether it is (i.e., in terms of its mission and future state) a collection of great ideas, or a more prosaic framework which offers (hopefully someday) a reliable predictor for program success.
    While the latter isn’t nearly as sexy, it is what we badly need in my opinion. So I am hoping for pragmatic and usable over sexy.

    The “BOK” issue is what had put me off of the ABPMP move in this area.
    Although they deserve all due credit for both filling a void and expeditiously tackling a tough endeavor. Yet the ABPMP CBOK seemed to me insufficient for either real guidance or validation. I did not feel I could credibly hold that up as justification for having followed or otherwise recommended a particular path, nor offer it to a newbie a meaning starting point for setting direction.
    In other words, it was clearly a great effort but never reach critical mass, and in my opinion this is because the organization behind it hadn’t reached sufficient maturity.

    No doubt if you have been involved in programs requiring certification, accreditation, or external governance, you have relied on the relevant IEEE standards and/or PMBOK as back to justify a documented approach. The lack of similar standards for process work has led to misappropriation and bastardization of the aforementioned IEEE/PMI type (I admit guilt here), as well as project failure and otherwise avoidable project risk.

    The approach and analysis articulated in the paper by Wasana Bandara, Paul Harmon, and Michael Rosemann (clearly 3 of the main movers in this organization) seem to be hitting the right notes, and identified how to ’embrace and extend’ the best parts of the CBOK. So I am warming up to the idea of this being the right ‘BoK’ even though the organization behind it is nascent.Although there seems to be an absence of any large adopter or ‘end user’ organizations, having a true peer-reviewed and/or crowd-sourced reference for both guidance and validation of process-driven programs would/will be hugely advantageous.
    Whether it is perfect or not, it looks like it could be the best we have.So we all agree it is a great idea and sorely needed yesterday, and like all great ideas it all comes down to execution.

    Your post is the first sign I have heard of any wobble in the process, but I am not sure it is truly a “D’oh!” situation and may more realistically be inevitable growing pains. I am optimistic, and rarely a Pollyanna, so hoping this does succeed.

    Posted by Nathaniel Palmer on LinkedIn’s Adaptive Case Management group

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