Model Purpose, not Processes

Chris Marshall

SES Software Inc

4694 Monticello Circle, Marietta, GA 30066, USA


Abstract This paper describes how modeling of businesses may be simplified by separating the concepts of business purpose (why) and business process (how). In particular, the hierarchical decomposition of a complex business process may be simplified or eliminated by an equivalent decomposition of its purpose. This distinction is also useful in describing commerce between organizations in terms of contracts. Examples from traditional business are used to illustrate these concepts.


Keywords Contract, organization, process, purpose, value.


Every business has a purpose towards which its energy and enterprise are directed. As we move into the twenty-first century, business is as much between as within organizations. While the internal purpose of an organization has been modeled by hierarchical decomposition of its vision into attainable objectives, the purpose shared by organizations for them to collaborate effectively is often not formally recognized, let alone described. This paper outlines various concepts and artifacts which businesses use to manage their internal and external purpose.

Business purpose describes why an organization exists, and business processes describe how such purpose is to be achieved. By separating these concepts, and by delaying the choice and instantiation of a particular process to achieve a purpose until the latest possible time, a business increases its ability to adapt to changes in its markets and availability of its resources. This becomes increasingly important as technology enables new patterns of e-commerce, and as the average size of organizations decreases. Outsourcing, manufacture-to-order, sub-contracting, niche-marketing, direct sales, and other such trends illustrate this position.

In a such a world, where value networks form and disperse rapidly and continously, there is no central point of control, and it is not feasible to devise or enforce systems to manage the disparate business processes of participating parties as if they were one process. Indeed, the processes may be confidential to a party, or may be selected from a range of alternatives according to prevailing local conditions, or may be delegated legitimately to other parties, and so on.

To avoid such problems, in particular premature decisions as to how work is to be done, business should describe itself in terms of desired outcomes, not prescriptions as to how such purpose is to be achieved. This is even recognized in contemporary military organizations, where authority is absolute, in which "mission command and control relies on the use of mission tactics in which seniors assign missions and explain the underlying intent but leave subordinates as free as possible to choose the manner of accomplishment" [Sander 1997].

Naturally, the means by which outcomes are achieved must also be described, particularly if the processes are to be automated. However, such process definitions are typically for small grained objectives, so are simple and direct. Where alternatives exist, each may be described separately, to be selected at execution time according to the ruling purpose. For example, selection among alternative shipping modes (air, road, rail) is often based on a delivery deadline, which depends on its purpose, not on the process itself.

Small grained processes of this nature are often reusable, have alternatives, and may be refined piecemeal, thereby avoiding the need for expensive and risk prone re-engineering efforts. By communicating purpose between organizations, each remains free to determine, and improve, the processes by which the purpose is achieved. While this appears to be contrary to the centralized planning of most ERP systems, it is not so. Such systems merely need to manage objectives, not the means by which the objectives are to be met. In most cases, resource scheduling such as materials and capacity planning may be delegated to the peripheral organizations responsible for achieving the objectives.

Finally, the paper elaborates on the concepts of contract and business messages introduced in last year's paper [Marshall 1998], in the light of developments since that time.



[Marshall 1998] Chris Marshall, Organization in a Chaotic World, Business Object Design and Implementation IV, OOPSLA 98, 1998

[Sander 1997] Emile Sander, Marine Corps Intelligence and Security Doctrine: Command and Control, US Marine Corps, 1997.



Chris Marshall is a (semi-retired) director of a number of software companies that have been active and successful for many years in delivering mission critical, enterprise wide information systems using object technology. He has been responsible for managing the development of large scale manufacturing, engineering and accounting systems in C for UNIX, and more recently in Java, for companies throughout Southern Africa. He was previously a general manager of a number of divisions of the largest manufacturing company in South Africa, and before that developed power systems software and managed projects on the Zambezi. He has an MBA from the University of Cape Town, and MA Mechanical Sciences from Cambridge in England.