Are you a mole or an owl?

Are you a mole or an owl?

Blog post by Gilles Rabaud

The BA benefits of flying high and scoping the full picture, before diving down and digging into the details.

When I teach our BPMN process modelling course, a key part of the learning is the practical application of each chunk of the theory that is covered. This takes the form of students working in groups, on a case study, devising BPMN (Business Process Model & Notation) processes on whiteboards. I then hand out a model answer and critique (in the nicest possible way) each group’s model.

Often, while the groups grapple with converting the case study’s business assertions into a process model, I say something like ‘Hey guys, you are moling’. ‘Moling? Whaddaya mean?’

Moling is what I call the technique used when a BA starts modelling a process from-the-start-event-to-the-first-activity- to-the-2nd-activity-to-the-3rd-event-hey-isn’t-there-supposed-to-be-a-gateway-between-the-1st-and 2nd event-oh-no-now-we’re-going-to-have-to-erase-this-event-and-insert-a-gateway-and-we-need-another-swimlane-oh-what-a-mess… You get the idea? I call it moling because this approach is reminiscent of a mole burrowing its way underground, aware only of what’s immediately ahead of it. Because it doesn’t have a big picture, the mole bumps into a tree root or building foundation, then has to backtrack and burrow away, in a different direction. Soon it bumps into another unforeseen obstacle, and once again has to change direction.

Moling is the natural inclination of many BAs, (guilty as charged) because we love detail and are drawn to the minutiae of a process, requirement or data, at the cost of seeing the bigger picture.

I try to teach BAs to be owls, rather than moles. The owl surveys the domain below it, understands its boundaries, the start and end points, the big picture, before swooping down on the detail (hopefully not a hapless mole which has chosen that moment to poke its head above ground).

When we teach process modelling at Redvespa, we start with defining the scope of processes. A half day is spent on the big picture, before we even touch on our first bit of BPMN notation. By the time we get to drawing case study process charts, I’m looking for my groups of owls to first draw the boundaries of the process. What is the trigger (start event)? What is the result (end event)? Is there more than one result? At this point there’s a lot of empty white board space between the writing. We are owls, understanding the domain. Gradually, systematically, we fill in the white space, aiming to get to each end event. As if by magic, the owls swoop down to the details and add activities, sequence flows, messages, swim lanes. Hey presto! A BPMN chart that’s accurate, elegant and tidy.

The approach works on several counts. If you are running a process workshop with stakeholders, they will appreciate the focussed, efficient approach, because it takes less of their valuable time. If you’re using modelling software, be it Visio or Bizagi, you can predict the dimensions of the model and place elements on the canvas without having to drag them around, squeeze in extra swim lanes or discover you need two A3 pages when you’ve done 90% of the model. Again, it’s efficient.

What are you? A mole or an owl? Can you be either, depending on what you’re doing? Or are you a hybrid creature with the pointy nose of a mole and the wings of an owl?



Header image: Anton Bielousov via Wikicommons