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The Theoretical Core and Protective
Belt of BPM:
ReflectionsonBPMResearchandsome
IdeasfortheNextWave
Jan Recker
Information Systems School, Queensland University of Technology
Background to this Talk
▪ Over recent years, I spent some time researching and 
reflecting on what the “BPM discipline” is, what 
research it conducts and what outcomes it produces.
▪ Two main essays:
– Recker, J. "Suggestions for the Next Wave of BPM Research: 
Strengthening the Theoretical Core and Exploring the 
Protective Belt," Journal of Information Technology Theory 
and Application (15:2) 2014, pp 5‐20.
– Recker, J., Mendling J. “The State‐of‐the‐Art of Business 
Process Management Research as Published in the BPM 
conference: Recommendations for Progressing the Field,” 
journal article currently under review
▪ “Empirical Evidence” for this talk:
– Analysis of all BPM conference papers published
– Large‐scale literature reviews on BPM research in general
– Insights into submissions and reviews from BPM2015 in 
particular
My Three Main Theses Today
1. The BPM research fields needs to 
review and challenge its core 
assumptions, strengthen them and 
move to explore a more diverse 
protective belt.
2. Research on BPM needs to become more 
mature, and the fields needs to be 
proactive not reactive.
3. The community that labels itself 
“the BPM discipline” needs to become 
more open and inclusive to avoid 
starvation.
What is BPM research?
▪ […] methods, techniques, and software to design, 
enact, control, and analyse operational processes 
involving humans, organizations, applications, 
documents and other sources of information.
▪ Research on processes in businesses, and their 
management.
Any process
Any business
Any form of management
van der Aalst, ter Hofstede and Weske (2003): “Business 
Process Management: A Survey,” in: BPM2003, p.4
BPM research has attained 
paradigm status
Bharadwaj, Anandhi S.: INTEGRATING POSITIVIST AND INTERPRETIVE APPROACHES 
TO INFORMATION SYSTEMS RESEARCH: A LAKATOSIAN MODEL , Foundations of 
Information Systems: Toward a Philosophy of Information, Volume 12, No. 9 (2000) 
What is our hard core and 
protective belt?
Type of
assumption
Description of assumption
Example of BPM research addressing the
assumption
Hard core
assumptions
All work is process work.
How can we describe organizations using process
models (e.g., Mendling, Reijers, & Cardoso, 2007)?
Any process is better than no
process.
How can processes be (re-) designed (e.g., Hammer,
1990; Davenport, 1993)?
Even a good process must be
performed effectively.
How can systems be designed to execute processes
automatically (e.g., Dadam & Reichert, 2009)?
Protective-belt
assumptions
A good process is better than a
bad process.
Which heuristics for redesign make a process better
(e.g., Reijers & Mansar, 2005)?
One process version is better
than many.
How can we support and execute process
standardization (e.g., Schäfermeyer, Rosenkranz, &
Holten, 2012)?
Even a good process can be
made better.
How can we mine process data to learn about and
from running process instances (e.g., Conforti et al.,
2013)?
Every good process eventually
becomes a bad process.
How do BPM capabilities evolve over time (e.g.,
Niehaves et al., 2014)?
Recker (2014): “Suggestions for the Next Wave of BPM 
Research,” JITTA (15:2), p. 10.
BPM as an established field 
(aka a paradigm)
▪ That’s good.
– Core ideas, core methodologies and core 
questions are well‐known and accepted.
BPM as an established field 
(aka a paradigm)
▪ That’s bad.
– Paradigms are stable: phenomena, concepts 
and procedures remain largely unchanged.
– Paradigms are predetermined: puzzle‐
solving, pre‐conceived outcomes in favour 
of the paradigm.
– Paradigms are divided: usually two camps: 
strong proponents that don’t consider 
fringe issues, and strong opponents that 
mainly debate or criticize.
▪ I believe these problems manifest in the BPM 
discipline (defined by those that are in it).
Paradigm signs: Stable research 
questions
van der Aalst (2012): “A Decade of BPM Conferences”, BPM 2012, p. 9
Paradigm signs: Stable research 
procedures
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
40
2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Formal Proof
Field Experiment
Lab Experiment
Survey
Case Study
Interviews
Action Research
Design Science/Engineering
Simulation
Illustration
Other
Recker and Mendling (under review): “The State of the Art in BPM Research,” unpublished 
article in development.
Zone of No Identity
Paradigm signs: Stable 
research output
Recker and Mendling (under review): “The State of the Art in BPM Research,” unpublished 
article in development.
Paradigms signs: Division of 
camps?
▪ The “BPM discipline” has many 
proponents but only few critics.
▪ Much of the research is self‐
reassuring: We pick problems suited to 
a particular class of solutions that 
we like and then demonstrate that 
indeed the solution works.
▪ There is virtually no research on 
where BPM fails.
How do we move forward?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtkUO8NpI84
Known Knowns & Unknown Unknowns
“There are known knowns; there are things we 
know we know. We also know there are known 
unknowns; that is to say we know there are 
some things we do not know. But there are also 
unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know 
we don’t know.”
Donald Rumsfeld, U. S. Secretary of Defense, Statement to the 
Press on February 12, 2002.
Known Knowns & Unknown Unknowns
Moving from reactive to
proactive research
Moving from reactive to
proactive researchMovingfrom
confirmationto
exploration
Movingfrom
confirmationto
exploration
Selected Known & Unknowns
Selected Known & Unknowns
• How can we create 
process models that are 
understandable?
• How can we generate 
software code from 
(some) process 
models?
Selected Known & Unknowns
• How can we create 
process models that are 
understandable?
• How can we generate 
software code from 
(some) process 
models?
• How do we improve 
processes?
• What is process 
innovation?
• What is the return on 
investment for 
modeling?
Selected Known & Unknowns
• How can we create 
process models that are 
understandable?
• How can we generate 
software code from 
(some) process 
models?
• How do we improve 
processes?
• What is process 
innovation?
• What is the return on 
investment for 
modeling?
• When does BPM lead to 
business value?
• When does BPM fail?
• Which processes should 
not be modeled or 
managed? 
Selected Known & Unknowns
• How can we create 
process models that are 
understandable?
• How can we generate 
software code from 
(some) process 
models?
Research of the Past
TIME OF RESEARCH
Research of the Future
• How do we improve 
processes?
• What is process 
innovation?
• What is the return on 
investment for 
modeling?
• When does BPM lead to 
business value?
• When does BPM fail?
• Which processes should 
not be modeled or 
managed? 
• What is Big Process 
Data?
• Will BPM disappear for 
a new management 
wave?
To Conclude…
▪ … maybe we need to revisit and relax some of our assumptions, 
such as
– Processes have to be in/about business.
– Process models have to be diagrams.
– Processes should be formalized.
– Processes need improvement.
▪ We need to do more research on how and why, not on what and 
that.
▪ We should become more proactive and explore new ideas, 
instead of adopting and applying ideas from other fields.
▪ We need to make sure that our research is always to the best 
standard (formal: okay; empirical: not so much)
▪ In a broader sense, we need to acknowledge the wealth of 
research on processes and their management that has already 
been done, even if under other labels.
Prof. Jan Recker, PhD
Information Systems School
Science and Engineering Faculty
Queensland University of Technology
email j.recker@qut.edu.au
web www.janrecker.com
twitter janrecker

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Jan recker bpm talk