As founder and CEO of Nimbus I spent 14 years evangelizing the importance of processes as a way of driving improved operational performance. I don’t think anyone in the BPM community would have issue with that.
Since Nimbus was acquired by TIBCO over 2 years ago, I had very little to do with processes and clients directly. In December was then asked by an ex-Nimbus client to support him as the Program Manager on a major transformation at the company where he had joined as SVP. The company, a major global engineering and construction firm desperately needed to drive some standardization, risk management and accountability into the way it delivers major projects.
So I am now back in the thick of process mapping, running a great team, which is fun as we see the client’s excitement build in the live workshops. The hierarchical mapping approach is so powerful in helping them understand what they (should) do, from the high level “Deliver Project”, the hand-offs between departments and the critical stage gates that can help reduce risk.
Which got me thinking. Have I been wrong all this time?
Are the principles, that we, and our clients, have lived and breathed for over a decade, correct? The guiding principles can be described simply as: easily understood process diagrams that fit on a single sheet, even for large cross functional processes
- simple mapping approach with boxes and lines; not swimlanes, flowcharts or BPMN diagram notation
- diagrams organised as a hierarchy; not single diagrams
- deployment to the masses is the aim; not analysis for the few or just a per-cursor to workflow
- making the process content consumable by a wide range of stakeholders; end users, risk & audit and IT
- role-specific guided walk-throughs overlaid on the process diagrams
So, if the hierarchical mapping approach (which has its origins in IDEF0 ) seems to work so well, why are we surrounded by business people drawing single level process diagrams using Visio Powerpoint and even Excel in swimlanes? Once they see the hierarchical mapping approach they are instantly converted, but are we expected to be evangelists forever?
I remember the saying “Eat shit – 100 billion flies can’t be wrong!” So all the millions of people drawing swimlanes – are they right or are they simply waiting to discover the power of hierarchical mapping and swimlanes are the default because that is what Visio does? Also, consider the new web-based, and very elegant, diagramming tools that have emerged that only draw single level diagrams and swimlanes, like gluu.biz and the free http://www.draw.io. Are they responding to a need or simply chose to develop a less complex application to code? As Steve Jobs famously said “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Henry Ford (allegedly) said that if he had asked his customers they would have said they wanted faster horses.
Hierarchical process maps or single diagram swimlanes? Which is best?
So, finally with no axe to grind I am genuinely interested in the answer.