Title page for ETD etd-04182007-023441

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Swan, Bret R.
Author's Email Address bret.swan@gmail.com
URN etd-04182007-023441
Title The Effects of Business Process Management Cognitive Resources and User Cognitive Differences on Outcomes of User Comprehension
Degree PhD
Department Industrial and Systems Engineering
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Van Aken, Eileen M. Committee Chair
Markham, Steven E. Committee Co-Chair
Koelling, Charles Patrick Committee Member
Smith-Jackson, Tonya L. Committee Member
Tegarden, David P. Committee Member
  • Business Process Management (BPM)
  • Enterprise Modeling
  • BPM Systems
  • Business Process Modeling
  • Metagraphs
  • UML
  • Explicit Knowledge
  • Tacit Knowledge
  • Graphical Process Models
Date of Defense 2007-03-26
Availability unrestricted
There is a growing need to study factors that affect user comprehension of Business Process Management (BPM) information portrayed by graphical process models (GPMs). For example, deployment of BPM Systems, unique types of enterprise-level information systems, has dramatically increased in recent years. This increase is primarily because BPM Systems give a variety of managers across an enterprise the ability to directly design, configure, enact, monitor, diagnose, and control business processes that other types of enterprise systems do not. This is possible because BPM Systems uniquely rely on GPMs derived from formal graph theory. Besides controlling the business processes, these GPMs, such as metagraphs and Unified Modeling Language (UML) diagrams, portray business process information (BPI) and prompt BPM managers to apply their training and expertise to deal with BPM situations. As a result, GPMs are the primary information artifacts for decision-making and communication among different, often geographically dispersed stakeholders.

Therefore, user comprehension of these unique GPMs is critical to the efficient and effective development, deployment, and utilization of BPM Systems. User comprehension outcomes are jointly affected by the (1) BPM cognitive resources available to each manager (including the type of GPM, BPI, and user educational training and experience), and (2) cognitive differences between individual BPM managers (such as their mental workload, cognitive styles and cognitive abilities). Although research has studied GPMs in various contexts, there is apparently no empirical research investigating GPM user comprehension in the context of BPM Systems. This research makes an important contribution by addressing this gap in the literature.

Statement of the Objective

The purpose of this research is to empirically study how BPM cognitive resources and cognitive differences between individuals affect outcomes of GPM user comprehension. This research centered on the following objectives:

A. Investigate whether more positive user comprehension outcomes are produced by novice users if a single GPM technique is used to portray different types of BPI (e.g., as with metagraphs) or if different GPM techniques are used to portray different types of BPI (e.g., as with UML diagrams).

B. Investigate whether one type of BPI is more easily comprehended and interpreted by novice users irrespective of the type of GPM or the type of educational training of the user.

C. Investigate whether users with a specific type of user educational training can more easily comprehend and interpret BPM information irrespective of the type of GPM or the type of BPI.

D. Evaluate influences of individual cognitive differences (i.e., mental workload, cognitive styles, and cognitive abilities) on outcomes of user comprehension.

In order to accomplish these objectives, this study: (a) defined a theoretical framework conceptualizing user comprehension outcomes in terms of the interaction between cognitive resources external to the user and individual differences affecting how users cognitively process BPI, (b) empirically tested an operational research model of GPM user comprehension that is based on the theoretical framework, and (c) interpreted the experimental results in the context of related literatures.

Description of Research Methods

This study empirically tested relationships between several variables representing BPM cognitive resources and individual cognitive differences hypothesized as influencing the outcomes of user comprehension. A laboratory experiment, involving 87 upper-level undergraduate students from two universities, analyzed relationships between participant comprehension of two types of GPMs (i.e., metagraphs and UML diagrams) used to portray three types of BPI (i.e., task-centric, resource-centric, and information-centric BPI) by novice GPM users possessing different educational training (i.e., industrial engineering, business management, and computer science training). Dependent variables included assessments of task accuracy, task timeliness, subjective mental workload, and self-efficacy. Covariate effects were also analyzed for two types of participant cognitive abilities (i.e., general cognitive ability (GCA) and attentional abilities) and two types of participant cognitive styles (extroversion-introversion and sensing-intuitive). Multivariate analysis techniques were used to analyze and interpret the data.

Discussion of Results

The type of GPM and participants’ GCA produced significant effects on the dependent variables in this study. For example, metagraph users produced significantly more desirable results than UML users across all dependent variables, contrary to what was hypothesized. However, if only the BPM cognitive resources (i.e., GPM Type, BPM Type, and the Type of Participant Education) were studied in relation to user comprehension outcomes, spurious conclusions would have been reached. When individual cognitive differences were included in the research model and analyses, results showed participants with higher GCA produced significantly more positive user comprehension outcomes compared to participants with lower GCAs. Also, many of the impacts of differences in the types of BPI and the types of UET were moderated by the differences in participants’ GCA and attentional abilities. In addition, the relationship between subjective mental workload and task performance (i.e., accuracy and timeliness) suggest a possible GPM cognitive ‘profile’ for user comprehension tasks in a BPM Systems context. These results have important implications for future research and practice in several bodies of knowledge, including GPM user comprehension in management systems engineering, BPM modeling, BPM Systems, HCI, and cognitive ergonomics literature.

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