This study year (2017/18) is already the 5th iteration of running the Business Process Modeling course at the local university. And while the curse evolves with each iteration, its technological basis remained the same during the past years, namely BPMN 2.0.
The main objective of my Business Process Modeling course is that the students attain a process-view of a system and that they are able to express and communicate about processes in a standardized way. Thus, applying BPMN is a logical choice.
While already having some positive feedback from the industry, I’ve decided to extend the technological basis of the course with two additional OMG’s specifications – CMMN 1.1 and DMN 1.1, which are, together with BPMN 2.0, commonly advertised as the “Triple Crown” of of process improvement standards.
What is “Triple Crown”?
The “Triple Crown” of of process improvement standards consists of three OMG’s specifications – Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN), Case Management Model and Notation (CMMN) and Decision Model Notation (DMN). All three technologies address business processes in a complementary way. Out of them BPMN is the oldest, most adopted and matured technology, dedicated to well structured business scenarios. However, as any technology it has its boundaries and limitations, as in the case of describing “weakly structured” processes as well business decisions. In this manner, two complementary technologies were introduced on the BPMN specification “template”. DMN (version 1.1. was released in June 2016) is well suited to model organizational decisions, which are based on business rules. Additionally, in December 2016, CMMN (version 1.1) was released, dedicated to modeling of case-related business scenarios. A concise representation of these technologies is presented on the figure below.
Adapting the Business Process Modeling Course
One of the main concerns of introducing two additional process-related languages in an existing bachelor course was related to the threat of overloading students. In this manner I’ve reduced the existing content in a way that new content would feed in existing scope of 45 hours of lectures. I’ve also decided for an incremental long-term approach of balancing all three technologies during the following years, based on students feedback and how the three technologies evolve. In this semester, 9 of 45 hours (20%) were dedicated to DMN and CMMN, mainly by reducing learning of BPMN “exotic” elements and cases (e.g. transactions, event-based starting gateways, complex events, etc.). Proportional to eight hours of lectures, the lab exercises were adapted, so students were able to practice in new technologies.
The modeling tool
In line with introducing the two new languages, I’ve decided to switch to Camunda modeling tool (Camunda modeler). And here is why I don’t regret this decision:
- Camunda supports all three standards, namely BPMN, CMMN and DMN.
- Camunda is free for use.
- It offers simple desktop installation and a web-based version.
- It is complies with the specifications, supporting the majority of elements.
- It offers “dual view” consisting of a visual diagram and an XML model.
- It has a good user experience.
- It is extensible with plugins which are simple to install (e.g. simulator)
Course transformation results
You don’t need to learn all the words prior to start writing essays! Improving the vocabulary is a continuous effort.
The preliminary results of the “Business Process Modeling” course (practical exercises results, exams results) indicate that the transformation has some positive impacts including:
- The level of BPMN knowledge remained almost on the same level. Well, the students did not get the knowledge of the whole BPMN language, but similar to learning a natural language one doesn’t need to learn all the words prior to starting writing essays. Improving the vocabulary is a continuous effort.
- Students quickly managed DMN, especially by using the Camunda DMN simulator. Camunda modeling tool in the combination with the DMN simulator proved as an effective solution for demonstrating on how the business rules are performed. And despite DMN was not presented in details, the students got a feeling about what is DMN about. And again, their knowledge in DMN can be extended in the future.
- CMMN was learned mainly by examples. I’ve just presented the basic idea and basics CMMN elements. Afterwards students presented their own or adapted examples and interpreted them in the classroom. The basic idea of CMMN was quickly conquered; however students still showed some discrepancies when interpreting CMMN diagrams (e.g. what does a blocking human task mean).
Guidelines for the future
The experimental introduction of DMN and CMMN into a “Business Process Modeling” course demonstrated as a positive decision. The initial presumption that students might confuse the three languages, demonstrated as wrong. They quickly recognized the main mission of the three languages as well the corresponding use cases. Yes, BPMN still remains the focal language of the course as it is also its role within the tree standards. However, if presuming that all three standards will coexist in the future, the course will definitively evolve in a harmonized lecturing of all three languages.