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Business Process Modeling Notation – A Comprehensive Look

Business Process Modeling Notation – A Comprehensive Look

Business process modeling and notation, or BPMN, is a process modeling technique producing easy to understand diagrams.

Business process modeling as a whole is an incredible, yet perhaps still an underutilized tool in any organization’s arsenal. There are multiple techniques available to help you lay out your internal processes, get a bigger picture of how things work and relate to each other, understand where you may be lacking, and most importantly, improve for long-term success.

One modeling technique in particular that I’d like to focus on in this post is BPMN which makes use of a set of symbols and its own methodology to describe a process. Let’s take a closer look at it, shall we?

What is BPMN?

BPMN stands for Business Process Modeling and Notation. Essentially, it’s a visual modeling language – an artificial language used to convey information within a certain system or arrangement, which finds applications in business analysis and process workflows. It’s quite widely used due to its intuitiveness and clarity, which resonate with all the business stakeholders involved.

BPMN origins date back to 2004, and it’s currently being managed by OMG (Object Management Group), an international consortium of technology standards. The version 2.0 of this process modeling technique was released in 2013.

Advantages of BPMN

With all the bpm (business process modeling) techniques available, you may be wondering why use BPMN and whether it’s actually the right choice for your organization. As is the case with any graphical representation of a business process, BPMN 2.0 introduces clarity and consistency to it, while making sure relevant business users are involved.

Among the main benefits of BPMN are its extensive notations that are easy to grasp for technical and non-technical individuals alike.

Overall, BPMN modeling provides organizations with the opportunity to clearly define and better understand their internal activities. The notations included help in closing the communication gap which may appear between process design and implementation.

BPMN aims to clearly define the roles within the business process management and have:

  • business analysts create and improve the processes
  • tech experts implement the processes
  • managers monitor and control the processes

What are BPMN diagrams comprised of?

When aiming to improve processes within a business, you have to first get a bigger picture of how the organization operates. BPMN delivers visual representation of a business process flow which can be easily read by different stakeholders,

A process diagram developed using BPMN shows steps, also called process activities, which take place in a sequence or simultaneously, in accordance with certain business rules. Have a look at the example below.

business process modeling tools
business process modeling tools

BPMN set of symbols and notations

The process mapping technique discussed here is used to create a business process diagram involving additional graphical notations. Such a presentation format is supposed to facilitate the understanding of the logic for all process participants. BPMN is useful for describing simple and complex processes alike using standardized graphic elements falling into several categories.

Each of them represents a specific aspect of a business process. It’s worthy of noting that pretty much any symbols can be used in your diagrams, however, by referring to the already standardized ones you’re able to collaborate with outside analysts more easily, and it saves you time since you don’t have to invent your own visual language first.

With all that being said, BPMN symbols can be assigned to one of the following categories:

Swimlanes

This group of elements represents actors and activities involved in the process and is further divided into:

  • Pools – Which represent major participants or roles in a project. For instance, a pool can be another company or a department. This element will contain other flow objects specifying the work that the pool has to do within a business process. Importantly, there’s a special type of pool called the blackbox pool which often refers to an entity external to the particular process. With that in mind, its internal flow doesn’t affect the process at hand so it can be omitted. One example of a blackbox pool can be a customer, whose personal actions have no impact on how a product is made.
  • Lanes – Representing activities within a pool performed by certain participants. This aids process execution, as it helps define who’s responsible for which parts of the process. Lanes can be embedded within other lanes, should the need be. However, keep in mind that BPMN2 serves mainly to model processes, so you shouldn’t apply nested lanes to try and map the structure of your organization.

Flow elements

As the name suggests, these are objects that connect with one another to create a business workflow. They’re basic elements shaping up a process. The three subcategories here are:

  • Events – Triggers which initiate, change, or conclude a process. Basically, these are occurrences which may have an impact on your system, and they can have internal or external sources. If it affects what you’re doing, you should model it. Different event triggers include message, timer, error, compensation, signal, cancel, escalation, link and others. Circles containing other symbols, depending on the event type, are used to depict them. Any business process should have a starting event to indicate where it began. Similarly, an end event indicates completion and an intermediate event drives the business flow based on the event it specifies.
  • Activities – Specific tasks or activities performed by an individual or a system. Rectangles with rounded corners, containing names that describe specific tasks are used to represent these. More details can be conveyed with sub-processes, loops, compensations and multiple instances. How deep you want to go with sub-processes depends on how much you need to know about the work being done.
  • Gateways – Turning points that affect the path of a process, based on certain conditions or events. This type of element is diamond-shaped and includes event-based gateways, exclusive gateways, inclusive gateways, and parallel gateways. Essentially, these elements are where conditions are evaluated and a decision is made on how to proceed.

Connecting elements

The type of elements just discussed aren’t isolated islands, but relate to each other to create a flow. What links them are connecting objects such as:

  • Sequence flows – They show the order of actions to be performed and take the form of a straight line with an arrow. They connect flow elements but only within the same pool. The flow can be conditional or default.
  • Message flows – Show messages, or communication, flowing in between pools. These objects shouldn’t link events or activities within a single pool though. Their graphical representation is a dashed line with a circle at the start and an arrow at the other end.
  • Associations – Dotted lines joining artifacts or text with an event, activity, or gateway.

Artifacts

These are any additional pieces of information that a modeler can use to introduce an extra layer of detail to a diagram. Artifacts are comprised of:

  • Data objects – Which show what data is required for or produced by a specific activity. Types of data objects include data inputs, data outputs and data stores.
  • Groups – Which show logical groupings of same-type activities but don’t affect the overall flow of a diagram.
  • Annotations – Which provide additional explanation to any of the process components without affecting the flow.

In conclusion

We all get stuck in a rut from time to time. Thus, understanding their internal business procedures is crucial for organizations to thrive. One way to go about this is through process analysis which allows you to take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and assess where you need to improve.

BPMN provides an excellent standard for process modeling you can immediately apply to the procedures you have currently in place.

To wrap things up, let me remind you that in this overview of business process modeling notation you’ve learned about the origins and advantages of the technique, as well as acquainted in detail with all the visual elements making up BPMN-generated diagrams.

The ball is now in your court. Put the information you obtained in this post into practice to learn more about your internal operations and eventually make them more efficient.