Case management and the CMMN standard (Case Management Model and Notation) emerged as a graphical representation for processes based on “cases,” unstructured and unpredictable in their execution. However, despite great expectations and hype about their applicability and possibilities, they didn’t gain traction in the market. Moreover, the international process management community turned its back on it. Today, the standard is in its death throes. In this article, we will look at the leading causes.
Case management and the CMMN standard: the Rise
The BPMN – Business Process Modeling Notation standard (What is BPMN?) – was a great success, being adopted by much of the BPM community of practitioners (What is BPM?). But BPMN is a standard oriented to structured, repetitive, and mostly predictable processes.
Inspired by BPMN’s success and shortcomings in modeling unstructured processes, CMMN – Case Management Model and Notation was born. CMMN is a graphical representation to graphically express a process associated with a Case.
“A Case is a procedure involving actions taken for a subject in a particular situation to achieve a desired outcome” and is derived from the concept of Case management used, for example, in the legal and medical world.Wikipedia
Let’s look at a concrete example: the process of dealing with a lawsuit. When the claim is received, it is first studied. Then, depending on its characteristics, it will be sent to one or another area within the organization. But a priori we don’t know to which area it will be, it could be any of them. So then, that area analyzes the case and decides the next steps to follow: from ignoring it and archiving it to sending it to the Board for their knowledge or any other alternative. And when it reaches this new stage, the analysis and decision are repeated.
The next step is analyzed and defined at each stage of the case. And this is decided at execution time, not process design time.
The ad-hoc processes are seen as cases.
In the world of processes, there has always been the concept of “ad-hoc.” They are the processes that cannot be defined at design time. As a result, each execution can be different without following predefined routes or flows.
Case management is an implementation of ad-hoc processes, where each case can have a different resolution, tasks, and participants.
OMG’s CMMN standard
The critical point for the rise of Case management and the CMMN Standard was when it became a standard promulgated by the OMG. CMMN version 1.0 was released in May 2014 and was modified by version 1.1 in December 2016.
From there, many BPM practitioners started using it to complement BPMN for less structured processes. In the same way, BPM Suites began to support it as well, some of them even developing specific execution engines for processes modeled with the CMMN standard.
The fall of case management and the CMMN standard
In 2019, three years after the release of version 1.1 of the CMMN standard, it was perceived as not generating the expected traction in the market. While several tools supported it, it was being discussed at conferences, and the process expert community was well aware of CMMN. Actual market adoption was little. Moreover, some significant players in the ecosystem announced that they would not continue to add new CMMN-related features (e.g., Camunda in 2019).
Another corpse in the closet
The case of CMMN isn’t new in the process world. Like any relatively young discipline, which is “discovering itself,” some initiatives thrive (such as BPMN) while others do not.
The market ultimately decides whether new proposals are adapted to existing needs and capabilities, in which case they are adopted… or not.
The case of BPML – Business Process Modeling Language deprecated in 2008 is a similar example. It was a notation with great potential, but it was not adopted by the market and finally ended up disappearing.
Another similar case is BPEL – Business Process Execution Language. Although it was not deprecated and is still used by some tools, its last version was published in 2007 by OASIS.
At Flokzu, we detected some of the main problems of CMMN early on, which is why we never supported it. One of the main ones was that it was complex to use. Flokzu is a no-code tool wholly oriented to business users, so it didn’t make sense to force them to learn another notation. Especially when most of the scenarios could be covered directly by BPMN, keeping one notation for our users.
Main weaknesses of CMMN
We identified three main weaknesses of the CMMN standard and case management that are likely to be the main reasons for the market’s failure to adopt them:
- Complexity. The CMMN standard is complex to learn and use correctly. It isn’t a very intuitive notation, nor is it derived from the classic flowcharts we already know. It includes elements that require explanation and training. A business user will have difficulty learning CMMN to create new models or understand existing ones, which naturally hinders adoption. This standard is incompatible with Flokzu’s spirit of facilitating and empowering business users to create and manage their processes with autonomy.
- Overlap. While CMMN is specific to unstructured ad-hoc process modeling, the reality is that most business situations could also be modeled with BPMN. Perhaps it is true with a little more difficulty, but it could be done. So why learn CMMN for just a few cases if I can learn BPMN and use it for all of them? That is a valid question. At Flokzu, we have seen dozens of ad-hoc processes modeled with BPMN, using generic tasks and dynamic assignment of participants, a perfectly correct configuration.
- Incompleteness. This is perhaps the most severe problem. We found that most processes have a formal, fixed, pre-established part. And then, another part that can be ad-hoc, unstructured. BPMN can support both. But CMMN cannot; it can only support the ad-hoc, unstructured part. So, will we need both notations for the same process? Naturally, it will be preferred to use only one notation, and since BPMN covers most of the casuistry, it makes no sense to use CMMN.
The CMMN standard and case management received much focus during the last decade’s second half. However, the market did not adopt them as intended. They slowly lost traction. Today the standard is published, but adoption is declining.
This situation is not new in an area of knowledge that is maturing and evolving. And it is terrific that it happens because the market adopts the most useful notations and technologies. At Flokzu, we have always prioritized ease and agility of use for our users. Therefore, we understand that the complexity of learning CMMN and coexisting with two notations does not justify the benefits. In addition, there is the very relevant fact that practically all processes (even their ad-hoc parts with little structure) can be modeled and automated with the globally accepted standard BPMN.
At Flokzu, we are always ready to help you model your processes. So schedule a call with an expert here, and together we will find the solution for your unstructured case or well-defined process!