Process modeling: actual vs. target

Anyone who deals with process management inevitably asks the question: Do I decide on an actual or a target process modelling? Or does a mixed form make sense? While process managers are usually clear advocates of target processes, quality managers typically advocate actual processes. This is due to the different roles as well as their typical character traits and objectives. The process manager wants to design and change processes, while the quality manager wants to standardize and stabilize them.

However, studies show that over 70% of business process re-engineering projects fail - they are the epitome of radical target modelling. Actual modelling also presents a rather sad picture: according to one of our own surveys, about 80% of actual models are used exclusively to obtain QM certifications. They are hardly used in everyday work and thus remain ineffective from an entrepreneurial point of view. Bad prospects? At first glance it seems so. But it is worth taking a second look, because there is a solution for lively, accepted and effective process management. And it combines both approaches.

What are target processs?

Target processes map the work processes in the company as they should take place in the future. They are often perceived as more motivating than actual processes because they follow the approach of "solution-based thinking". In other words, they put the solution in the center of attention instead of dealing with problems. In addition, target processes are often linear, consistent and coherently structured - and thus particularly simple. Defined as ideal concepts, they also do not have to be constantly adapted to the actual processes in the company.


Unfortunately, this conception of the ideal process is often difficult to realize. Since the model is initially a purely theoretical construct of requirements and goals, many employees cannot imagine the practical result. That is why they do not deal with the plan until they actually implement it. In this way, the target model cannot be used as a knowledge platform for the current day-to-day work. On the contrary, the strong focus on the target state even creates the risk that current problems will not be solved or that practices that are actually good will deteriorate.

Target process modeling


  • solution-oriented
  • motivating
  • simple, static model


  • high failure rate during implementation
  • very theoretical
  • no implementation in everyday life
  • current problems and best practices move into the background

What are actual processes?

Actual processes represent the work processes in the company as they currently take place. This is done using a highly simplified model, but there is no imaginary model of the future. As a result, they have a much greater practical relevance than target processes and require less imagination on the part of the user. Actual models also support a consistent understanding and standardization of processes within the company. In addition, they allow small-step and precise changes to be made to processes. As a result, content is always kept up to date. The result is a process-oriented knowledge platform that is firmly integrated into the company's daily routine.


However, actual models are often criticized for becoming outdated too quickly and for being too time-consuming to constantly update. In addition, actual processes are often very diverse and complex. Since they permanently confront employees with current problems, they are often perceived as less motivating.

Actual process modeling


  • practice-oriented
  • harmonized and standardized
  • precise, small-step changes 
  • integration into everyday life possible


  • outdated after a short time
  • rich in variations and complex
  • not very motivating
  • the ideal moves into the background


The solution: collaborative and agile process management

Actual models are too time-consuming to maintain, target models are wishful thinking far removed from reality - what now? The solution lies in an agile approach that combines the advantages of both methods:

  • The collaborative approach reduces effort: all employees are actively involved in process management. As few rules as possible apply to modeling.
  • In the sense of agile process development, processes are defined and optimized in extremely small steps: Changes and new empirical values are continuously introduced.
  • Due to the high everyday relevance of the processes, employees identify with the contents and use them: A process-oriented knowledge portal with a continuous reality check is created.

The starting point for successful process management is collaborative actual modeling, which can only be achieved with a lightweight tool. This enables every employee to quickly and easily adapt workflows to current best practice - even on a daily basis if required. This motivates them to play an active role in shaping processes. In this way, target processes are defined in small steps, which become actual processes after only a short time. At the same time, the process documentation always remains close to reality. The success rate of such continuous improvements is significantly higher than with pure target process modeling.

Is acutal process modeling thus always the better choice?

Almost always. If you use a rigid process management tool in which only a few experts are responsible for all workflows, you should focus on target processes. In this case, documentation that is true to reality would be too costly, and the modeled processes would become outdated too quickly. This is why most BPM tools recommend pure target process modeling, accepting all the disadvantages of this approach.

In the case of major changes in the process structure, it may also be necessary to start with target process modeling - for example, in the case of a restructuring, the establishment of a new site, or the introduction of SAP. The weaknesses of the approach can be compensated by a good project approach. But even in the case of major changes, the goal should be to re-establish a close link between documentation and reality as quickly as possible with lively actual modeling.

The conclusion: The ideal is a living actual modeling with a small-step continuous improvement process in an interactive process platform such as However, with large change projects and centrally maintained BPM tools, only target modeling can usually be implemented efficiently. In any case, it makes sense to decide on one of the variants as early as possible. Remodeling processes later is just as costly as completely redesigning them.


Are you still looking for the right software for your wiki-based management system? Make your processes more efficient and your company more up-to-date - with the interactive management software!


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