Flowcharts and Goal-Orientation

Goals can represent a desirable future state or situation, a trend value or a set of rules or constraints. Therefore one needs a powerful data mapping capability and rules embedded in the process engine and not external. For business, goals can represent strategic objectives (often quite intangible), customer outcomes (pure perception), operational targets (must be measurable) or process goals (ideally tangible). While process goals should in principle be tangible, that does not mean that the actions needed to arrive at that goal are equally tangible or predictable. That is the whole point. A process flowchart assumes all-out predictability, while goal-orientation is about guidance under uncertainty. As certainty is not achievable because any event can happen at any time in any process context, goal-orientation is the only real world approach to process management. The ‘outcome’ (can be output, handover or result) of a process is achieving goals that are causally connected to business strategy and capability. A causally linked set of goals represents the Strategy Map of a Balanced Scorecard.

Flowcharts Can’t Model Goal-orientation.

Goal-oriented process behavior can be seen as an internal guide to a process that helps to clarify why we do the process and verify if we achieve it. There is no external, additional monitoring necessary. The BPEL ‘standard’, for example, is not only unable to fully map BPMN, it is further utterly unable to handle goal-oriented models. In a typical BPMS flowchart there is no need for goals, because the path to the endpoint is strictly conditional, even if the user can ‘dynamically’ switch the execution path (manually set gateways) like the tracks on a railroad yard.

Executable process goals linked to operational targets and strategic objectives are different. The top-level goal of an end-to-end process (i.e. customer outcome) has dependent and optional process-goals with linked optional activities. Some process goals may have dependencies with operational targets or required service levels. Service levels are not monitored overall but related to goal-achievement. The activities necessary to reach them can change at any point in time due to unpredictable events. There is no overall pre-defined flow and possible happy-path from end-to-end. Goal-orientation requries the ability to add new goals, activities, resources, rules, constraints and performers when required. There is no sense in having goals and then restrict the performers in achieving them. Adaptive technology allows to reuse this new ‘knowledge’ for future executions without needing a BPM bureaucracy for redesigning flowcharts.

Because in reality most processes have to deal with unpredictable complex business events, neither predictive analytics nor business rules will be able to realistically deal with them. Statistical analytics lack the ability to identify the hidden, time-correlated, data-pattern context of an event. That’s why I chose pattern matching agents who work in real-time during process execution and learn from human actions.

Complex Business Events Require Goal-Orientation

While agent technology can perform constraints-based optimization, that does not mean that it can deal with unexpected events – rather the opposite. That has been one of the real challenges in artificial intelligence. Plan optimization requires at least a library of plan fragments and goes awry when things aren’t as expected in the plans. Self-healing processes for BPEL were a research subject, but never reached real-world usability lacking goal-orientation. Self-healing strategies with rules could handle known execptions but are quite useless for unpredictable processes. Encoding rules that trigger on incoming data is very complex because one has to know beforehand what the trigger conditions and context might be. It is not longer a complex event! The ability to define at problem time (not a-priori design time) necessary constraints and rules for a new situation that the unexpected event caused, must not be a special case but NORMAL. This can only work by enabling humans to add actionable knowledge to the process definitions (training by doing) without needing IT guys to encode it. I am not proposing that all performers will define rules and activities. To empower the business and give performers explicit goals for a coherent business exercise, processes must be defined in business terms and not IT terms.

Because the million dollar question for goal-orientation is: ‘What are the right goals for an outcome and the right actions to achieve them considering the current situation?’ And: ‘How can goals be sensibly expressed, understood by business people and defined to follow company strategy?’ The Outside-In methodology considers customer outcomes and is thus one-dimensionally goal-oriented but doesn’t encode them, thus loosing the promised agility. To leverage social concepts for efficient and effective processes, goals must be expressed in an understandable AND executable way, using rules in natural language. That again needs a business language ontology that is used to express the customer outcomes, strategic objectives, operational targets, the resulting process goals and finally business rules and constraints – hence a Business Architecture.

Goal-oriented Requirements Language

Researchers at the University of Toronto defined the so-called GRL Goal-oriented Requirements Language that can be used to specify goals, soft-goals, beliefs, tasks, resources, actors and agents as elements for goal achievement with special relationships such as means-ends, decomposition, contribution, correlation and dependency. The ISIS Papyrus Platform uses a simplified version of GRL concepts as input to process goal RULES for BPMN. The goal rules represent the organizing and controlling element of the case.

The real world practically of goal-orientation as a human concept brings process management that much closer to the business than BPMN ever could. It is normal human behavior that different people choose from multiple optional plans that all have the opportunity to fulfill a particular goal. When we are in problem mode we might reconsider our approach by means of optimizing for minimal constraints, sometimes intuitively. Typically we follow our patterns of experience until something goes wrong or changes, meaning an unexpected event happened and then we adapt the plan as needed. It can be that something is out of sequence, in the wrong state, does not fulfill some parameters or an external dependency is not being satisfied. Think of your normal working day! And then it can be any combination of the above or something totally different. Once I can simply identify a new event and how I want handle it, it is no longer a problem to my process execution.


About Max J. Pucher

I am the founder and Chief Technology Officer of ISIS Papyrus Software, a medium size software company specializing in communications and process management. I wrote several books and hold a number of patents. My quest is to bring common sense to IT, mostly by focusing in human quality issues rather than cost saving, outsourcing and automation. I am also Chief Architect at VIPorbit software which provides mobile relationship management.
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