Human Processes: Architecting processes

Finally, a notation is available to show collaborative human processes in a simple, sensible way. It’s about time.

Designing business processes is an important aspect of enterprise architecture. So, it is surprising that the latest and shiniest notation to emerge in the architectural world has such poor support for it. Yes, you can rig up ArchiMate to look a bit like BPMN, but as Gerben Wierda shows the outcome is untidy at best:

Figure 1: A simple business process in ArchiMate (customised to look like BPMN)

Even producing such a simple process requires much customisation of ArchiMate notation, but without such customisation, it looks even worse:

Figure 2: The same process in ArchiMate (raw)

So, most people don’t use ArchiMate for process modelling, preferring to stick to BPMN. But there is one area of process modelling where ArchiMate excels – in depicting human collaboration.

ArchiMate 3.1, helpfully separates the Business Layer (the operational organization of an enterprise) from the Strategic Layer (strategic direction and choices of the enterprise). This reduces the Business Layer to the following three types of elements:

  • Internal Active Structure – roles, actors, and collaborations
  • Internal Behavior – processes, functions, and interactions
  • Passive Structure – business objects and their representations

The element I’ll focus on here is business collaboration, which represents “an aggregate of two or more business internal active structure elements that work together to perform collective behavior”.

Figure 3: Business Collaboration (ArchiMate 3.1)

ArchiMate recognises explicitly that roles often collaborate in complex ways, that this is critical to the operation of organisations, and that the resulting behavior may be more than simply the sum of the visible activities of the separate roles. Business collaborations represent this collective effort – what I call a human-driven process.

Human-driven processes may be temporary or permanent. They may be given official names, or operate under the radar. Importantly, they can and often do cross organisational boundaries – teams, departments, and legal entities. B2B and B2C collaborations are fundamental building blocks of the networked economy, as they have been of society as a whole since the dawn of civilisation.

Collaborations may use specific business interfaces, and may even provide them. However, their behaviour is rarely fixed and can be hard to describe – so, very sensibly, ArchiMate does not expect you to try. What it does do is allow you to recognise their existence in your models.

It’s about time! I’m not a big ArchiMate fan – not only is it poor at describing the nitty gritty of solutions compared to the UML, but over time it has become bloated to the point where it’s hard to learn and to use correctly. Do you know all 77 shapes yet? However, on this, ArchiMate is leading the way for modelling notations generally.

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Keith Harrison-Broninski

Keith Harrison-Broninski

Keith Harrison-Broninski FRSA is an author, speaker, and technology/business consultant specialising in collaboration across organisational boundaries as well as social technology for wellness, community, and finance. Keith’s first book was "Human Interactions" (2005): "Set to produce the first fundamental advances in personal productivity since the arrival of the spreadsheet" (Information Age); "The breakthrough that changes the rules of business" (Peter Fingar, author of "Business Process Management: The Third Wave"); "The overarching framework for 21st century business technology" (BP Trends); "The next logical step in process-based technology" (Chair of the Workflow Management Coalition). Keith went on to develop these principles for cross-boundary collaboration in further books and research and lead award-winning social enterprises for healthcare innovation, wellness, and community finance. Keith’s latest book "Supercommunities" brings together insights from recent academic research with original ideas about wellness, collaboration, and finance to explain how communities everywhere can become antifragile through social trading.