A Book Review: Workflow Patterns: The Definitive Guide

Workflow Patterns
As most readers know, workflow is the older name for what is now popularly called Business Process Management Software. Many will also know that the leading theorist of workflow software is Endhoven Professor Wil van der Aalst, whose book, coauthored with Kees van Hee, Workflow Management: Models, Methods, and Systems, is the classic text in the field. Under the circumstances, when Dr. van der Aalst and his colleagues offer a new book on workflow, it's worth careful attention.

Those familiar with van der Aalst's work know that he has used a set of workflow patterns – examples of the kinds of problems that workflow tools can deal with – to evaluate workflow tools. By comparing how each of several tools handle each of the patterns, we can judge the capabilities and flexibilities of each tool.

This book is contemporary in its focus, using the term BPMS as a synonym with workflow and discussing all of the latest developments in BPMS, including BPEL and case management. The heart of the book is focused on defining and considering each of the major patters.

The patterns include:

  • Control-flow Patterns
    Branching Patterns
    Synchronization Patterns
    Repetition Patterns
    Multiple Instances Patterns
    Concurrency Patterns
    Trigger Patterns
    Cancelation and Completion Patterns
    Termination Patterns
  • Data Patterns
    Data Visibility Patterns
    Data Interaction Patterns
    Data Transfer Patterns
    Data-based Routing Patterns
  • Resource Patterns
    Creation Patterns
    Push Patterns
    Pull Patterns
    Detour Patterns
    Auto-start Patterns
    Visibility Patterns
    Multiple Resource Patterns

Each pattern is diagrammed as it is described. Thus, in addition to providing a comprehensive overview of the capabilities of BPMS products, the book provides process analysts with an excellent tutorial into how to use BPMS to diagram the kinds of process situations commonly encountered in business processes.

If you want to see a brilliant application of this approach, go to www.bptrends.com and do a search for Stephen A. White's 2004 article: “Process Modeling Notations and Workflow Patterns.” In 2004 there was a lot of discussion about the relative merits of the UML process notation and the new BPMN notation. Stephen provided a comprehensive summary of the differences between the two approaches by comparing how each would implement each of the workflow patterns.

Anyone interested in the architecture or functionality of BPMS tools will want to acquire and study this book. In addition, business process analysts who want to really understand the kinds of workflow situations you may encounter should buy and study this book. You won't find a better way to learn about the range and the technical capabilities of process modeling tools.

Paul Harmon

Paul Harmon

Executive Editor and Founder, Business Process Trends In addition to his role as Executive Editor and Founder of Business Process Trends, Paul Harmon is Chief Consultant and Founder of Enterprise Alignment, a professional services company providing educational and consulting services to managers interested in understanding and implementing business process change. Paul is a noted consultant, author and analyst concerned with applying new technologies to real-world business problems. He is the author of Business Process Change: A Manager's Guide to Improving, Redesigning, and Automating Processes (2003). He has previously co-authored Developing E-business Systems and Architectures (2001), Understanding UML (1998), and Intelligent Software Systems Development (1993). Mr. Harmon has served as a senior consultant and head of Cutter Consortium's Distributed Architecture practice. Between 1985 and 2000 Mr. Harmon wrote Cutter newsletters, including Expert Systems Strategies, CASE Strategies, and Component Development Strategies. Paul has worked on major process redesign projects with Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Security Pacific, Prudential, and Citibank, among others. He is a member of ISPI and a Certified Performance Technologist. Paul is a widely respected keynote speaker and has developed and delivered workshops and seminars on a wide variety of topics to conferences and major corporations through out the world. Paul lives in San Francisco. Paul can be reached at pharmon@bptrends.com
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