On Spreadsheets, Clean Handoffs, and a Dinner Bet

A frenzy of recent blogger activity around the question of whether the business people who do "modeling" can really build executable processes, by analogy with the spreadsheet. Keith Swenson says absolutely, David Ogren and Jesper Joergensen of BEA echo right on, and Phil Ayres is a lonely voice of dissent. I come down squarely on the Keith/David/Jesper side. A key point -- that with the right tool, business folks can do things we used to consign to programmers -- is accepted at some level by everyone. But taking the spreadsheet analogy too far -- as Phil does -- gets us off the track.

In the BPMS world, the debate is really between the clean-handoff vision and the collaborative tool vision. The clean handoff says business does modeling, IT does design, and anything that blurs that separation is inherently dangerous. (In fact, even directly creating skeleton design from the model is somewhat distasteful, but don't worry, IT can change it later...) The collaborative vision says the line between modeling and design is a fine one and blurring rapidly. They're really the same thing, and share a common tool, with users layering on different levels of specification. This is essentially the old Third Wave idea, the new BPM 2.0 idea put forth by myself and Ismael, and in my view the ultimate winner of the dispute. Ogren sums it up in one line: "The process model is the implementation."

Are we there yet? Maybe, maybe not. That's what the famous dinner bet was all about. Stay tuned.