Simple way to model processes in the Web
In a nutshell…
- You can model business processes in the Web using SAP StreamWork
- Getting access is free, painless, but you may need to wait a few days for activation
- The software is beta, but includes ways of safeguarding against any disaster
- If you want access then ask a couple of colleagues to join you. This helps you understand the collaborative advantage of such a tool
- Features are added on a monthly basis, so the shelf-life of this blog is limited.
In this blog I’ll describe some of the simpler but also the more sophisticated aspects of this tool. Don’t be scared off by the advanced features because these can be ignored if you don’t want to use them. Feedback so far has been that the tool is very easy to use right from the very first click so just skip the bits that aren’t going to be useful to you.
What is useful to you?
- the basics, if you want to model the steps to reach a decision
- the basics, if you want to describe graphically the steps to ensure a decision is executed effectively
- the basics, for simple project-related processes (e.g. to get clarity on who needs to sign-off before moving to the next stage
- the advanced features, for Business Process Experts wanting to model business process.
Using the tool…
Part 1 (Creating an initial diagram, simple modeling steps)
Logon to SAP StreamWork, either directly or using your Google ID. Create or enter the relevant activity (collaboration space) and add a process model using the tool catalog.
If you cannot see this tool in the catalogue in the beta tab then you haven’t been given access (How to get access to the new SAP StreamWork tool for modeling process flows).
Figure 1. Adding the tool.
Now you start to model your process. My recommendation here, irrespective of what type of process you are going to describe (how to reach a decision; an administrative workflow; a project flow…) start off by representing each of the roles involved using a swimlane. That is because the people-aspect of processes can often be the messiest so it is best addressing that aspect early on to avoid running into ambiguities or dead-ends later.
To add swimlanes you need to have a pool (makes sense doesn’t it) and it is up to you whether your lanes flow left to right or top to bottom. That will be the direction that the process moves in.
Figure 2. Adding a pool.
Figure 3. Adding a lane.
As you can see from the screenshots, you can use the toolbar buttons and the context menu to do this. In most cases you have a choice of which to use, but pools are always added from the toolbar and the lanes are added using the context menu by hovering the mouse of the pool header. You can resize the pool and lanes and change the order by dragging and dropping using the pool/lane header just like you’d expect. You’ll also notice that I’ve given the lanes and pool useful labels so that everything remains crystal clear.
Next, you define the process in more detail. In other words which steps are needed in which order. You can add the steps (often called activities) one at a time and connect them together or use the context menu to create and connect in one single elegant step.
Figure 4. Adding steps/activities
Figure 5. Adding more steps/activities
If you want to change the the target or source of a connection just select it and move the end of it to the correct element, as shown in the following screenshots.
Figure 6. Moving a connector endpoint
Figure 7. Connector endpoint moved
And if you make a mistake (or several mistakes) just use the undo toolbar button to go back to a previous state, or redo to go forward again. Later we’ll see how several people can work on the same diagram at once, but the undo/redo feature will only undo your work, not work that someone else has done so there is no danger of accidentally undoing someone elses work.
Figure 8. Undo/Redo
If you want to insert a step into an existing connection then just slide it over onto the connector and drop it into place. You can even slide an element off one connection and slip it directly into another, such as when you want to move a check-point within your process.
Figure 9. Sliding an element into a connection
Figure 10. Element has been slipped into the connection
Part 2 (Collaboration aspects)
The real power of this tool is the way it allows two or more users to work together on the same diagram. In this example, another user appears online (Alan Workflow-Rick – my alter ego) and I can invite him to throw in some ideas about the process without having to resort to a new tool to handle the web conferencing. This is really neat. There is no disruption and no lost time. If necessary I just pickup the phone to make things even easier.
Figure 11. Starting a collaboration on the same diagram in real-time.
Alan Workflow-Rick can not only see what I’m changing in the diagram but make changes himself (which I see in real time). For example, here he adds a sticky note to remind both of us that some additional research is needed.
Figure 12. Collaborating on the same diagram in real-time.
To see who added what to the diagram you can switch on and off the contributor markers (the little colored symbols – each user being represented by his or her color)
Part 3 (Re-using the diagram in different ways)
One very useful feature is the ability to export your diagram. You can use this to create local backups or copies of different versions of the diagram. And by using the import feature you can import the diagrams into a different activity, so that it is shared by a different group of users. For example, in the scenario above, which has been extended to include a new pool representing a different company (the hosting provider), you may want to collaborate with this company without showing all the internal parts of your companies process. Simply import the diagram into a new activity, delete the internal bits and pieces and then invite colleagues in the hosting company to continue working on “public” aspects of the process.
Figure 13. Exporting and importing to share with a different user group.
You can also use this to create different alternatives for a given process, and to explore which of the candidates is the best for the job.
Part 4 (BPMN 2.0)
There is a standard which describes what different shapes represent to help reduce ambiguity in the diagrams (Business Process Management Notation – BPMN 2.0 – SAP is a leading author of this standard). This modeler conforms to this standard. But the standard also specifies the XML representation of the diagram, and this is the standard used for exporting the diagram.
This allows you to export your diagram and import it into different tools, such as SAP NetWeaver and tools from third party vendors because this is an open standard supported by virtually all business process management software vendors.
Because there are certain semantics involved in this standard (for example you cannot receive a message before it is sent) the graphic modeler can check the model to see that it is semantically correct. Of course, for the purpose of brainstorming about a particular process or project flow you don’t want to be restricted by these semantics, but there may come a time when you want to verify the process created. Think of it in the same way you’d eventually want to do a spelling check for a document you have written. The editor supports this. All you do is switch on the modeling check and you will be shown where semantic rules are broken together with what needs to be corrected. It is off by default, because the main purpose of the tool is unrestricted process modeling in a free and easy manner without inhibiting anyone involved in the modeling.
Figure 14. For Business Process Experts – BPMN 2.0 validation
Part 5 (Tips and Tricks)
Most probably, you will only want to use very basic shapes, but if you are more adventurous or are invited to a diagram which contains a shape you don’t recognize then click on the online help and you’ll see good descriptions of the semantics behind the shapes as well as detail about the different editing operations possible.
Figure 15. Of course – detailed and useful online-help
And finally, and this really is one of the very important aspects of the collaborative process modeling, the SAP StreamWork application provides a host of powerful tools which you can link into your modeling work. So you can discuss the model in a threaded discussion; you can add links to web or intranet pages to improve clarity or upload related documents directly to the StreamWork activity; add action items to ensure that colleagues really do invest the effort that you need (such as an interview with one of the roles involved in the process)… The sky is the limit in terms of the collaboration with colleagues so your work is unbelievably efficient, even across different locations and time-zones. Of course, only people invited to the StreamWork activity will be able to view or join in so this effort is as private or public as you choose.
Figure 16. Full set of SAP StreamWork collaboration tools
- Use the browser accelerator key control minus (CTRL -) key to zoom out of the diagram to see more of it in less detail.
- CTRL + does the opposite.
- Use the spacebar to toggle between pan mode (skate around the diagram using the mouse to pan) and select mode (to select and manipulate objects).
So, even if you just want to sketch a process to reach a goal, get involved, give this tool a test run and see for yourself how useful it is in practice.