What is BPMN?
‘Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN)’ is a method for business process mapping. That is, creating a visual representation of complex business practices or process flows. This is designed to give major stakeholders the clarity and perspective required to make informed decisions.
The essence of BPMN 2.0 involves establishing the location of individual processes and departments, along with their relationships to each other. This style of diagramming is generally easier to understand than narrative text, allowing users to explain relationships that may otherwise require experts to interpret. The right BPMN tool could even do wonders for your organization’s planning efficiency.
Developed by the Business Process Management Initiative, BPMN 2.0 can be a highly valuable asset for a variety of stakeholders and business users, including:
- Business analysts
- Process participants
- Technical developers
- External teams and third parties
BPMN diagrams provide these actors with the terminology to communicate their ideas and make decisions with a much greater sense of perspective. This, in turn, can ease collaboration and even boost morale since everyone will be able to see the purpose and benefits of their own contributions.
How does BPMN work?
In essence, business process modeling techniques are a lot like flowcharts, just slightly more complex. They utilize graphical notation to outline process steps, the placement of departments, and so on in order to create blueprints for businesses. Observers can then pinpoint specific areas in order to understand how they relate to each other, as well as how they can be improved.
A BPMN model is made up of ‘pools’ and ‘swimlanes’. There will be multiple swimlanes within a single pool, with each representing different participants and responsibilities. Tasks and information can also flow between swimlanes, affecting them simultaneously. It goes without saying that different factors within a business are never entirely independent; by understanding the connections between them, you can get a clearer perspective of how the business works and how prospective changes may impact it. You can also understand how information and activities flow towards the endpoint of a process, such as a finished product or service.
A BPMN model is made up of ‘pools’ and ‘swimlanes’. There will be multiple swimlanes within a single pool, with each representing different participants and responsibilities. Tasks and information can also flow between swimlanes, affecting them simultaneously.
It goes without saying that different factors within a business are never entirely independent. By understanding the connections between them, you can get a clearer perspective of how the business works and how prospective changes may impact it. You can also understand how information and activities flow towards the endpoint of a process, such as a finished product or service.
A key part of this process is the terminology of BPMN. This can be applied to models of varying complexity, from simple hand-drawn diagrams to huge complex blueprints. Each will utilize the same shapes and terminology in order to make the finished blueprint accessible to all.
BPMN 2.0 depicts four element types for business process diagrams:
- Events: Triggers that start, modify, or complete processes, such as receiving a message or escalating an issue
- Activities: Tasks performed by people or systems. These can also include subprocesses, loops, compensations, multiple instances, and so on
- Gateways: Decision points that can adjust paths. For example, a single decision could cause a process to go down Path A or Path B, leading to very different endpoints. Types include inclusive, parallel, and exclusive gateways
- Sequence flow: The order of activities to be performed
- Message flow: Messages that flow across pools or organizational boundaries
- Associates: Artifacts or text within an event, activity, or gateway
Pools and swimlanes:
- Pool: A major participant in a process. Different pools could represent separate departments or companies, though they will still be linked to the same process
- Swimlane: Areas within a single pool. They show activities and flows for certain roles and participants. They also define who is accountable for which parts of the process
- Data object: These will show what kind of data is required for an activity
- Data group: These will show a logical group of activities but will not change a diagram’s flow
- Annotation: Further explanation to any part of a diagram (like comments in a document)
How can BPMN help my organization?
Now that you know how it works, you might be asking, ‘What is BPMN used for?’ BPMN offers a number of potential advantages to businesses of all sizes. The essence of its offering is clarity, as it helps users determine objectives and processes in a way that allows them to control their organizations with a greater sense of perspective. Once a business is familiar with the terminology of BPMN, it can also enjoy clearer communication between different stakeholders and departments.
A crucial aspect of this is BPMN’s ability to link technical and non-technical audiences with a single, clear language. Sub-models can also be created to allow actors to view sections and pieces of information that are relevant to them. This can be done without having to make a business’s entire model transparent to all employees.
There are also a number of other potential benefits to consider:
- Align IT operations and software development with business strategies: As crucial as IT is to modern businesses, its complexities can often cause difficulties for decision-makers. Lacking the same knowledge as IT managers, they may struggle to see where IT fits in with wider business priorities. BPMN solves this problem by making IT and its position within a business easier to understand. BPMN software can also be employed to ease the process even further.
- Improve operational efficiency and cut down on wastage: With a greater understanding of a business’s processes and relationships, decision-makers will be in a much better position to boost efficiency wherever they can. With ongoing process improvement across the board, the business can enjoy greater productivity, more cost-effective utilization of resources, and a culture of continuous optimization.
- Enable quicker changes to the business: Businesses face new challenges all the time, such as changes to technology or new initiatives by competitors. The clarity offered by BPMN can make it easier to adapt to these challenges, allowing businesses to eliminate expensive guesswork. In short, a BPMN diagram shows not only where a business is failing but also helps users understand how to make improvements.
- Improve process communication and perspective: BPMN terminology and documentation can make team members certain of what they need to do, as well as how and why. This can also enable rapid knowledge transfer, making it easy to turn knowledge and experience into documented processes that everyone, including new employees, can learn from.
- Enjoy an adaptive process: The fluidity of BPMN means that it can constantly be adapted to include new technologies, frameworks, and processes.
Is BPMN the same as UML?
UML, or ‘Unified Modeling language’, performs a similar role to BPMN. It is a standardized modeling language specifically designed for system and software developers. With a focus on objects, it is used to specify, visualize, construct, and document software artifacts.
While their purposes are similar, UML is primarily for software elements. BPMN, on the other hand, is focused on processes and is far more applicable for business domains. For this reason, BPMN is generally the more widely used framework.