Albert's Blog

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Must processes be described precisely?

Is it necessary to describe processes precisely? Most people say no. It is good enough to describe the most important execution variants of a business process. Eighty percent coverage  is good enough. The rest is handled by humans according to the concrete situation.

By the way: precise specifications are different from detailed specifications. Precise specifications define the allowed sequences of actions to be executed by the parties involved in a process. And for that description a language has to be used which has a precise semantic. All the involved parties need to understand  process descriptions in the same way. In general involved parties can be people and/or IT-Systems. This means a language must be understandable by both types of actors.

If in a process alternatives are allowed for human decisions then it must be defined when this is possible and what the alternatives are.

Precise process specifications define the cooperation of the involved parties. They do not describe the details of an action executed by a certain actor. These details are part of the implementation. Only the impacts of action results on the cooperation behavior must be described.

Do you think that precise process specifications are a waste of time and money? What would  happen if Amazon had not described its processes precisely? What would it mean for Amazon if they had not precisely defined how an order change request of a customer needs to be handled? What would that mean for you as a customer?

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The exception is the normal

The exception is the normal. In the current business world  a major aspect of service quality is the ability to handle special customer  requests  like  the possibility to change an order. I think a normal situation is  that a customer sends an order to a supplie.  5 minutes or one day later he or she wants to change the order. The colour of the ordered shirt should be green instead of blue and the customer wants to add an additional yellow shirt. The reaction can be different depending on the status of the process execution  of the order handling process . Sometimes it is possible to accept the change request, and sometimes it is not, e.g., when the change request arrives after shipment was already initiated.

Try to describe such a process as an Event-driven Process Chain (EPC) or in BPMN. Up to now, I could not find a transparent and reasonable solution. If you find one let me know.

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Organisation is communication

Finding  the first sentence for the first entry in a blog it is terrible. Done! Additionally humor is the most difficult part for a non-native speaker. But it is not necessary trying to write in humorous style as I intentionally want to do. I am sure I produce many jokes by mistake. Have fun!

Now back to our topic: Business process management. There have been a lot of discussions about what are business processes. In my opinion it simple deals with structuring work in organizations, sets of organizations, organizations of organizations etc..  What is an organization? Luhmann has said that the smallest unit of an organization is communication. Communication is executed by two information processing units which exchange information. By the way this definition is created by a sociologist in spite it sounds like a definition from a business informatics guy. Based on that definition business processes are nothing else than the  communication between the "information processing entities" involved in the execution of a business process. In order to avoid the communication chaos the communication behavior which is appropriate for handling a business event is structured: Messages are exchanged in certain sequences. Why do we use control flows for handling business events? Control flows are an appropriate mean for describing processes if the involved parties belong to the same organization or company. But in a global economy communication takes place between everybody on the globe even to entities outside the world e.g. the astronauts on the ISS.

I think today it is better to consider processes in Luhmann's way: Communication between the entities involved in the process.

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