VDML roots: relationship to BPMN

VDML Relationship to BPMN

In this post, you will find a brief overview of the relationship of VDML to BPMN (Business Process Model and Notation). While VDML and BPMN represent some similar concepts, they address different business problems and areas of concern. They provide different viewpoints—they address the concerns of different stakeholders.

The mapping reveals the similarities and differences between BPMN and VDML. While both BPMN and VDML represent business processes, VDML is at a higher level of abstraction. The difference in viewpoints might be compared to the differences between a circuit diagram for an electronic appliance, and a component assembly drawing for the same appliance. While they represent the same appliance and have some common elements, you cannot derive one from the other.

The intent of VDML is to address the needs of business leaders to define, manage and transform the design of the enterprise. This requires a broad perspective to incorporate multiple aspects of the enterprise. The ocus of BPMN is defining and managing repeatable, reliable processes with an emphasis on automation. The focus is much more specific but much deeper in detail addressing many exceptions and variations. The community of concern is primarily managers, business analysts and systems developers closer to the business operations. In terms of the draft MDA Guide, VDML supports a business model and BPMN supports a logical system model.

The primary mode of application of VDML is “forward engineering” as described by the draft MDA Guide. This involves development of a business solution by starting at an abstract level of design and developing in stages of increasing detail. VDML enables business leaders to define and agree upon a high-level business design that can then be used to guide more detailed solutions that may be delegated to multiple business units. BPMN represents a primary tool for development of the next level of detail.

However, not all applications of VDML fit that pattern. The manner in which VDML is used and its relationship to BPMN will vary depending on the nature of the business problem being solved. A number of different modes are discussed in the following paragraphs.
Business network analysis

VDML Business Networks models can be developed to represent relationships with customers, suppliers and others, typically in the context of certain collaborative activities such as a line of business, product development relationships, regulatory compliance relationships, etc. The collaboration structure and exchange of deliverables helps analysis focus on both tangible and intangible deliverables and the less obvious but important exchanges. This may lead to changes in business relationships, clarification of roles and deliverables, and development of improved internal business processes.

BPMN drawing

BPMN design

Customer value analysis

Customer value analysis will be based on value stream analysis. A basic value proposition must be defined to identify values of concern to a customer or customer community. Then the value proposition must be linked to collaboration and activity value contributions. In the absence of an existing VDML model, development of the value stream will typically be performed top-down, considering high-level activities or stages of the business and breaking these down into a hierarchy of activities and deliverable flows. The values of a customer value proposition are traced back up the value stream to identify sources of value and potential improvements. The level of detail will be driven by the level of confidence in the measurements and the need to drive down to specific capabilities and responsible organizations. This could start with BPMN processes, but typically this requires digging through too much detail. The analysis will lead to focused consideration of process improvements (BPMN).

The analysis of customer value will lead to identification of activities might be improved to improve customer value. This may also lead to a “capability map” that provides a visual breakdown of the capabilities required by the activities with highlights to identify those capabilities that need improvement.

Capability analysis

Capability analysis can go beyond the identification of critical capabilities in a value stream. In a large enterprise, multiple product lines or lines of business may require some of the same capabilities.

Capability analysis should identify similar capabilities, consider ways they can cooperate to improve their performance, and assess the potential to consolidate for economies of scale. This may drive process improvements or development of processes for a shared capability to meet the needs of multiple lines of business.

When capabilities are consolidated as shared services, there is a need to understand their performance in multiple contexts. Changing a capability for one line of business could adversely affect another. In addition, analysis of investments in improvement of capabilities should consider how each capability affects all of its uses to provide an enterprise-level perspective on allocation of investments. The implementation of improvements will likely involve process improvements based on the capability analysis.

New product/LOB analysis

Development of business operations for a new product or line of business should involve leveraging existing capabilities. VDML supports modeling the business at an level of abstraction that identifies capability requirements without requiring a lot of detailed process analysis. Capability requirements can be developed at an appropriate level of detail for strategic planning, to identify existing capabilities and any changes to their requirements along with requirements for new capabilities. This provides a framework for more detailed analysis, such as process modeling, to focus on the areas the need development. Business leaders can more quickly assess both the cost and time required to realize the needed production capability and make an informed business decision on the potential success of the product.

Merger or acquisition

Mergers and acquisitions, if they are to realize any synergy, require some consolidation of capabilities. VDML models can be used during due diligence to get a better understanding of the similarities and differences of the enterprises and the potential for sharing capabilities. While the enterprises may have similar products, that does not mean they have similar ways of doing business.

Here a transformation of BPMN to VDML, assuming processes are specified with BPMN, may be an expeditious way to develop VDML models for comparison. If transformation is not possible, or if starting at business processes is too big an undertaking, VDML can still support value stream models at levels of detail appropriate to confirm similarities or expose differences so that much of the modeling does not reach the business-process level of detail. These models will provide the basis for consideration of to-be models to realize expectations of synergy in the merger.

Strategic transformation

Strategic transformation potentially involves substantial change to the way the business operates. Starting with business processes will bias the result by making it difficult to see the forest for the trees. VDML supports a higher level view of the business where sufficient detail can be developed to realize a meaningful assessment of the scope and duration of the change, the performance expectations and competitive position as well as the framework for organization of initiatives and development of business processes and systems. Multiple VDML models can be used to define stages of transformation and define incremental change rather than one, long-term undertaking with no benefit (or failure) until the end.


VDML provides the linkage of customer value to contributing activities, to use of capabilities and to responsible organizations so that organizations can be held accountable for poor results and recognized for important improvements. VDML will drive meaningful performance measurement, and support analysis that starts from a high level of abstraction and expands levels of detail to focus on a specific area for improvement. It will also help clarify expectations and responsibility for shared capabilities.

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