BPMN

Business Process Modelling Notation (BPMN) - toolshero

This article explains the concept of BPMN or Business Process Modelling Notation in a practical way. After reading it, you will understand the basics of this powerful IT technique to model business processes.

What is BPMN?

Every organisation has to deal with business processes. Regardless of whether it concerns a profit or non-profit organisation. Business processes occur wherever people work. All these processes consist of activities, tasks and decisions that are carried out to realise an organisation’s objectives. Business Process Modelling Notation (BPMN) is concerned with the formal recording and improvement of these existing business processes. The goal of BPMN is to visualise these processes. Currently, the method has been standardised and is now usually referred to as Business Process Model and Notation. By drawing existing processes, an accessible standard is created that is managed by the independent Object Management Group (OMG). BPMN is an IT tool to implement Business Process Management.

Drawing Processes

BPMN offers an organisation simple and insightful process models. Processes take place on various levels; from strategic, tactic to operational level. By describing the processes in steps in great detail, it becomes clear what each department or individual employee must do and which actions this includes. It’s possible to draw all these various processes within BPMN, offering more insight into the goings-on of the organisation. This drawing is referred to as modelling. Process analysts can add details to the process. IT specialists can also use the results for implementation in an automated environment.

BPMN model example - toolshero

To work with BPMN, organisations must first purchase software for modelling BPMN diagrams. It’s important that all processes are automated in this way and that all interested parties understand, read and interpret the process models in the same way. Think of various parties that are involved in those business processes, such as process owners, managers, business analysts, external consultants, architects, suppliers, system developers and users.

Universal Language

Because it must immediately be clear for all parties what the business processes are about, BPMN is a universal modelling language. BPMN allows an organisation to communicate with all stakeholders with only one process model per process. As a result, it helps organisations to model, optimise and carry out processes as effectively as possible. A universal language ensures that business units in every layer of the organisation as well as IT can communicate more easily and understand each other. BPMN visualises process flows, actors, process steps and actions and is relevant for all parties that are involved in modelling and improving business processes.

In principle, BPMN is a flow chart method, in which all steps in a planned business process are mapped, beginning to end. This provides a detailed, visual overview of both the work methods and the flows of information of an organisation. Thanks to the simplicity, visual models and diagrams are often easy and quick to understand for everyone. As a result, these facilitate a more efficient progression of business processes, which subsequently leads to better results. Employees don’t have to be IT specialists to work with BPMN. The basic principle of this method can be quickly learned and eventually, everyone is able to model processes.

BPMN Symbols

BPMN diagrams use various elements and symbols. BPMN consists of four basic elements with their own symbols: flow objects, connection objects, swim lanes and artefacts. Consequently, the essence of BPMN is comprehensible and easy and quick to work with. The four basic elements have been further specified. Below are the most frequently occurring symbols in business process diagrams, together with their specifications:

1. Flow objects

Events

A BPMN diagram starts with a motivation. Subsequently, adjustment or completion of the process follows. Events are represented by a circle. This circle contains other symbols based on their event type.

Activities

Within each event, certain activities take place that must be carried out by people or systems. The so-called tasks are represented in the shape of rectangles with rounded corners. The more sub-processes exist, the more detailed is the way in which these are represented.

Gates

A gate indicates a decision moment when a path can be changed. That makes it a transition based on certain conditions or events. These transitions or crossroads are shaped like a diamond.

2. Connecting objects

Sequence flows

Within BPMN, this indicates the order in which activities must be carried out. To indicate this, straight lines with an arrow are used.

Message flow

This represents the messages that flow across the various lanes in a ‘pool’; this refers to a department. In doing so, the message flow indicates the boundary between the various department within an organisation. However, the message flow is not used to connect events or activities to each other. The message flow is represented by an interrupted line, with a circle at the beginning and an arrow at the end.

Association

This creates a connection between an artefact (extra information from developers) or the description with an event, activity or a gate. An association is represented by a dotted line..

3. Swimming lanes

A pool or swim lane in BPMN represents a group of participants who are important to the business process. Multiple pools can represent both different businesses and departments that are involved in the business process. Swim lanes display the activities and sequence and message flows for a specific participant. This makes it clear and insightful who is responsible for which part of the business process. Swim lanes are represented as rectangles or lanes.

4. Artefacts

This concerns extra information developers could add. This adds more details to the diagram. This concerns the following types of artefacts:

Data object

A data object shows the specific data required for an activity.

Group

A group displays a logical grouping of activities.

Annotation

An annotation provides more information about part of the diagram.

BPMN Saves time

BPMN is a rich standardised method, which both the organisation itself and the IT department can use. This does come with the condition that all parties involved make clear agreements on the meaning and use of the objects in the diagram. After all, these agreements ensure that process models are uniform and can directly be understood by everyone. In this way, no misunderstandings can arise and BPMN can save a lot of time. By subsequently describing all agreements and definitions in a BPMN convention manual, all parties know what to expect. Moreover, it indicates which constructions are preferred to depict specific process situations. It would take a lot of time if this had to be investigated on every occasion. By referring to the convention manual, everyone knows what previous agreements have been made.

Now it’s your turn

What do you think? Do you recognize the practical explanation of BPMN or do you have more additions? Does your organisation make use of this technique to model business processes? What are the advantages or disadvantages of BPMN according to you?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Chinosi, M., & Trombetta, A. (2012). BPMN: An introduction to the standard. Computer Standards & Interfaces, 34(1), 124-134.
  2. Owen, M., & Raj, J. (2003). BPMN and business process management. Introduction to the new business process modeling standard.
  3. White, S. A. (2008). BPMN modeling and reference guide: understanding and using BPMN. Future Strategies Inc..

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Patty Mulder
About the Author

Patty Mulder is an Dutch expert on Management Skills, Time Management, Personal Effectiveness and Business Communication. She is also a Content writer, Business Coach and Company Trainer and lives in the Netherlands (Europe).
Note: all her articles are written in Dutch and we translated her articles in English!

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