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7 Objections Against Process Mining 16

When I listen to people who are skeptical about process mining, I notice that there are still quite a few misunderstandings.

I thought that it might be worth clarifying some of these misunderstandings. So, here are seven typical objections against process mining and how I would react to them.

1. Too good to be true

Especially if one is coming from an academic background, one has to understand that there is a wide gap between what is possible and what people are used to in a typical business setting. Often people cannot grasp what process mining does simply by telling them about it.

Whenever possible, I try to show them the technology. People who have seen a demo of process mining tools are consistently enthusiastic about it.

2. Nobody needs this

Process mining is a generic technology (just like data mining) that must be put in a concrete context to highlight its value. The specific benefits that process mining provides vary depending on whether you use it, for example, for increasing operational efficiency, for risk management and assurance, for reducing errors, or for controlling partners for quality of service contracts.

I try to put myself in the shoes of that person to understand the specific context they are coming from. I then try to provide a concrete example that is relevant and highlights the business benefits in that situation.

3. Never-ending story

Sometimes, there is the misconception that you need endless data collection and data improvement before you can actually start with process mining. The truth is that process mining starts with the data that is already there. One usually starts very simple and iterates as much as is needed. Each iteration brings new value, and even the data quality problems that may surface in the beginning provide value as they can compromise other business tools (KPI reporting, dashboards, etc.) because the underlying assumptions about the measured process don’t actually hold.

I would explain that the only mandatory requirements towards data for process mining are (1) a case ID, (2) an activity name, and (3) a timestamp. When I use an example to show the kind of data that is needed, people usually understand that they have lots of data in that format that can be used right away.

4. Only useful for BPM systems

The key misunderstanding here is that process mining can only be applied to processes that are fully controlled by IT systems. In fact, the processes only need to be observable in some form. It is true that for rigidly configured and model-driven BPM systems there is often little value in re-discovering the process flows. However, even programmed workflows allow for considerable degrees of freedom. There are usually parts of the process that are automated, and some other parts are controlled by humans (but still observable). There often remains quite some flexibility in the way people can operate, and as a consequence there is little insight into what they actually do.

I try to explain that there is a difference between IT systems that fully control the business process and those that support these processes (and as a consequence make them observable by collecting data as a byproduct). Process mining can be applied to a wide variety of data sources including database extracts, transaction log files, and Excel sheets.

5. Doesn’t work in flexible environments

Yes, you probably won’t be able to extract an executable BPMN model from a super flexible healthcare process, where every patient follows a different path. But then again, you most likely don’t want to. Process mining has much broader capabilities than rediscovering executable models. For example, Christian‘s thesis describes applications for process mining in flexible environments, and we at Fluxicon have further developed his techniques to provide tools that are particularly suitable to analyzing also less structured process data.

I would counter by saying that process mining is more useful in flexible environments than for completely controlled BPM systems. One can learn a lot more because the actual process is invisible and emerges on the go. By observing what is happening, you can identify best practices and things that go wrong (and add rules to better steer the system where needed). You can also read Keith’s Swensons post on Flipping the Process Lifecycle to see how process mining fits into the Adaptive Case Management (ACM) paradigm.

6. Not new

Well, it’s true that process mining is not that new anymore. The research at Eindhoven University of Technology started around 1998 in this area and influences can be traced back until even earlier. Everything is a remix. But it’s new as a structured approach to analyzing data from a process perspective that is now finding its way out of the research lab into the business world.

I usually try to explain the differences of process mining compared to traditional process modeling and data mining, Business Intelligence, simulation, and standard query tools to position the technology. The main differentiator is the process focus and the generic framework to analyze data from a process perspective.

7. Just paving the cow paths

In his article on Desire Lines or Cowpaths, Wil van der Aalst addresses the objection of people saying that there is no need to know how things work right now as they want to change it for the better anyway. They use the BPR mantra “do not pave the cow path” to support their arguments. This discussion comes down to the broader question of whether one should do an ‘as-is’ analysis in the beginning of a process improvement project or not. Process mining is about ‘as-is’ analysis, other methods are doing interviews, walk-throughs etc.

I would respond that one cannot properly redesign a process without understanding it first. Understanding the current process is just the “zero measurement” that you need in order to know where you are at the beginning of your process improvement project, and to measure how far you have come in the end. You can also take a look at this discussion in the Lean Six Sigma group, where ca. 200 people argue that it would be a big mistake to skip ‘as-is’.

Some final words

The process mining manifesto has given some more visibility to process mining, which is great. Let’s all provide further examples and case studies to substantiate the specific benefits of process mining. A great example is Alberto Manuel’s experience report about process mining here. If you have some process mining experiences to share but don’t have your own blog, feel free to contact us and we can report on it here.

My hope is that we all continue to substantiate the concrete benefits in balance with expectations, not to create a hype. It’s also not necessary that everybody is a “believer”. Let’s not make an ideology out of it. For some people process mining may not be applicable, and others may have hidden agendas that prevent them from acknowledging the usefulness of this new technology.

What other objections have you come across in your discussions about process mining? Or do you have your doubts yourself, and did not find them addressed in this post? I am really curious to hear them: Let’s continue the discussion in the comments!

Comments (16)

[…] BPM and Process Mining – Anne Rozinat I would counter by saying that process mining is more useful in flexible […]

“The (statistical) results of Process Mining are too complicated or useless for the average manager”.
I received such opinions from two senior managers of companies which offer IT solutions.
I can see their point if you look at some Process Mining deliverables generated by ProM. So maybe there is a need for some “deciphering” or processing of the results, in order to display them in a simplified manner which the “average” manager could find usefull.

Hi Dafna, thanks for the comment!

Do you have an example for which kind of statistical results were too complicated? Was it process throughput times or something else?

Hi Anne,

For example, the display of the discovered model with the various numbers. BI dashboards also show “statistical” information, but somehow process-related information seems like an “advanced” topic to people. The question is whether Process Mining data can also be integrated in a manager dashboard…

Thanks,

Dafna

OK, I see. Thanks for the additional thoughts. Good point.

Hi Anne

Here are some more objections I heard (I leave it open if I agree or disagree):
– It is too (time)expensive/difficult too find the proper data in our system.
– There are too many plug-ins in ProM to choose from. There is too little (non-academic) documentation on the techniques and the value/correctness of the results.
– ProM is an academic tool and doesn’t fit with my goals. Other tools are way too expensive.

In my opinion these three objections relate to a lack of quality in the tools and not to the technique of process mining itself, but I think they are still very relevant.

Cheers,

Jan Claes

Hi Jan,

Thanks for your comment, you raise very valid points. Here are some of my thoughts:

1) Difficulty of getting data:

In some environments and companies getting the data is indeed not easy. However, if you have the data in your system, it is typically a question of whether the decision makers are on board; if they request it from their IT staff, it typically gets done. But some companies’ IT structure is simply not suitable for process mining, it doesn’t fit everywhere.

2) Too many plugins in ProM:

ProM is an academic toolkit, which was primarily built to make research on process mining techniques and case studies easier for researchers and students in universities. This is why there are so many plugins (one plugin per paper, if we’re being cynical.. :-) ).

The problem here is that many people confuse ProM with a generic, low-cost process mining tool. It’s not, especially ProM 6 is a tool for scientific experts who are ready to go the extra mile (making themselves familiar with the plugins, and modifying code) to get to the bottom of an analysis. This also explains the (relative) lack of documentation, although Joos Buijs and other members of the ProM group make a great job offsetting this in the ProM forum, I think.

3) ProM is academic, other tools are too expensive:

Again, ProM is not a free lunch. What you don’t pay in software licenses, you have to invest in terms of training and working around bugs and shortcomings. This is not a problem per se, it is a question of priorities. You can’t have a usable and stable product which is at the same time on the bleeding edge of university research.

As for the price of commercial solutions, I can’t comment on specific solutions. However, people should see that process mining is a very new technology which can provide serious differentiation for businesses and consultants. If you just want to use process mining to show some nice animations in order to get new clients, it may not be worth to pay tens of thousands of Euros for a commercial tool, ProM should do that fine as well.

However, if you are serious about the benefits of process mining (and there are lots of them for a large number of people), even an expensive commercial tool is an excellent investment if it can provide an adequate ROI for your specific situation. I would assume that, once process mining becomes more mainstream, that prices should go down as well. However, all enterprise software is anything but cheap in the first place, and if people compare commercial pricing to that of ProM, maybe they aren’t serious about process mining in the first place.. :-)

What do you think?

– Christian

I think you are totally right! I added them to the list because I think many people have these opinions, but I share yours: ProM is mainly a research tool and we are all waiting for a good comercial process mining tool from Fluxicon ;)

Thanks for your comments and your patience, Jan… :-)

I’ve already been in a situation that the objection #1 happened. It was a job interview. The interviewer (an TI Manager) asked me wich was the subject of my bachelor degree thesis. My answer was: “I wrote about process mining”. Than he asked me again (surprised!): what’s that?!. So I explain the basics but, even understanding, he said that could not see the process mining working in real situtations. I confess that I got a little disapointed with myself, wondering if I did a wrong explanation or something like that. But now I see that it didn’t happened only to me.
Very good post!

Dear Samuel, thanks for sharing your experience! A job interview is probably not the best place to do a demo ;) But perhaps you have a chance to show an example the next time when you run into a similar situation. I would be curious whether it helps to dissolve the disbelief.

In regards to #4…is there a paper, guideline on how to find and extract data from a non-BPM-system. There are lots of companies that use custom written applications that support their business processes, but do not log typical event logs. Most of the time their database contains lots of interesting data for process mining, but maybe not always in the correct way. For example, if a status field of an invoice/order is overwritten instead of adding a new record in a table then some of the events are just ‘lost’, I guess. Is there software available that could capture these field status changes and transform them into an event logs or how would you approach such challenges?

Hi Ingmar, thanks for your comment! Indeed, if the status field is just overwritten then the history is lost. What we sometimes see is that databases keep timestamps for the latest execution of each activity in different fields. In this situation, you lose a part of the history because only the latest execution of each activity is visible. So, you don’t see loops (rework), for example. But it’s still data one can work with. If no history is kept at all, it becomes difficult. Perhaps one could try to uncover database transaction logs, but I am not sure. We usually try to work with the data that is there (even if it is bad in the beginning), because then it is easier to motivate why it is worth putting effort into better data collection.

[…] think of processes only in terms of the BPM lifecycle. We talked about this in a previous post on 7 misunderstandings about process mining. It is way too narrow to think about processes just in the context of automation. There are many […]

Hi,

Its a very nice post. Currently, I am more into CRM and sales. Can you give me some suggestion how can I use Process mining in the same.

Best Regards
Aryna

Hi Aryna,

Thank you. Yes, CRM systems are typically very suitable to get data from, because there is often a clear case.

As a next stem, I recommend to read our data extraction guide to understand what the requirements towards the data are and how you can get them: http://fluxicon.com/s/dataextraction

Best,
Anne


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