Is BPMN the DNA of Process?

We recently showed our Papyrus BPMN/XPDL Editor for the first time. Papyrus executes the BPMN/XPDL models without transformation and allows interactive editing of the model at runtime to enable dynamically created sub-processes in line with Adaptive Process requirements.

In the course of discussions on Adaptive Process or Adaptive Case Management Frank Kraft suggested that BPMN (a process modeling notation) is the genotype of the business process to be executed. It would be the DNA that creates the process. I am always trying to learn from nature so that made me think. I have frequently discussed Darwin and evolutionary concepts in relationship to economy. Why not in relationship to BPM? It opens up many interesting questions.

Before entering the complex subject of DNA I wonder if we can observe processes in nature? Process descriptions take recurring snapshots in time and try to arrange those in causal sequences. These snapshots can be considered patterns. So are there process patterns, meaning recurring sequences of momentary patterns in nature? Seen loosely enough, that seems to be possible. But it is just an observation of loosely coupled events. At what level of looseness does it stop to be a process? What rules of causality could be applied to make it a repeatable process description? There are apparently weather patterns that have tendency to loosely follow each other. Are these causal? If yes, we certainly lack the ability to see it. Does this apply to the basic natural processes only or also to evolution? My main issue with BPM is how processes are analyzed and created, so evolution is relevant. While there are recurring patterns of how evolution seems to work, I propose that there are no rigid processes of evolution.

So what if we look at living beings? Are there biological processes on a larger scale? There are chemical processes within and between cells but not in the interactions of millions of different cells. Chemicals on both sides of interactions produce potential, that given the right context (for example the right temperature) will lead to a chemical reaction. A neuro-chemical might activate a receptor on a surface of a cell. So who controls all that? Is DNA the natural form of BPMN? We simply don’t know, but I propose that the DNA creates a large functional space of potential that then plays out through the real world context. BPMN is much more limited than that!

The DNA certainly controls how the cells of the body are created. That creates the building blocks (entities and actors). The cells then each do their own thing, like excreting hormones during growth to stimulate neighboring cells. The DNA has (we thinks) no exact description of how cells will interact. There is however a lot of DNA formerly called ‘junk DNA (98%) that has no function in the cell creation. Recently it was discovered that the ‘junk-DNA’ contains complex sequences that might influence behavioral heredity (for example instincts). Some propose that it might control how evolutionary changes are fed back into the DNA (I used such ideas already in 2005 in my novel ‘Journey To Eden‘). Natural selection by killing off non-fitting offspring is possibly not the only evolutionary mechanism. Should this be true, the DNA would be truly ‘adaptive’ from inside. To me that seems utterly plausible, because the DNA contains the building plans for its own mRNA decoder. BPMN (or similar) has to be externally created and then interpreted by SOMEONE or SOMETHING. It does not create itself during execution by evolution. DNA does also not disappear after the cell has been created but remains inside the cell to allow cell repair and replication.

If there is a genotype (genetic identity) of a process, then by all means there ought to be a phenotype (properties due to environmental influence) as well. The question is now with how much of intelligence do we start out with after giving birth to a process? Do we start from a blank process slate (collaboration) or is it all inherited (BPM)? I propose that BPMN ought to be adaptable during process runtime. If DNA has adaptable features we don’t know yet.

We are right in the middle of William Paley’s 1802 Watchmaker argument. He said that the existence of a watch (humans) proves the existence of a watchmaker (God). The Intelligent Design argument of todays Christian fundamentalists mirrors that. If BPMN is compared to DNA then the process designer is God. That seems to explain why discussions on process management seem fairly dogmatic and religious.

I happen to believe in the survival of the most adaptable (process)!

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