Business Process Modeling (BPM) is a practice used to visually represent key processes. It is designed to help organizations continually improve processes while also communicating them in a simple way. This ensures that everyone in a company, from team members to stakeholders, can understand processes and their purpose, inputs, outputs, and so on.
‘Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN)‘ is a BPM modelling language. It has long set a high standard, versatile enough to apply throughout a business. BPMN diagrams can also be built with varying levels of complexity depending on the knowledge of the intended audience, making it a valuable tool for professionals at different levels.
However, at this point, BPM is not a new concept. BPMN was released almost two decades ago and has not seen a significant update since 2014. A lot has changed since then, with many practitioners complaining that BPM is not as feasible in the fast-paced Digital Age.
Alternatives have also appeared during this time. For example, CEO Richard Firth has offered examples such as ‘Business Process Socialization (BPS)’ and ‘Business to Machine to Customer (B2M2C)’, which marry BPM ideas with modern business practices such as machine learning, analytics, the Internet of Things, and so on.
With this in mind, there is a growing argument that BPM itself and tools such as BPMN have become outdated, but is this the case? In this article, we explore the idea and aim to answer the question, is BPMN still worth studying?
Is BPMN dead?
BPM can be an extremely useful practice. Building awareness of key processes throughout an organization can be challenging, even for managers and stakeholders who require high-level awareness. Using process modelling techniques, a candidate can break complex processes into a simple visual format, making it easy for audiences to understand what the processes do, how they connect to other processes and departments, their inputs and outputs, and so on.
However, process modelling is a slow, manual process. This is true even with frameworks like BPMN. Previously, this was not an issue, but in the digital spaces of modern business, BPM expertise often is not as much of a requirement for optimization. If automation can improve processes without needing to pay a BPMN specialist, why not save money?
There is also an issue of context. The problem with applying BPM to individual processes is that it is granular. This can lead to wasted time and frustration, especially if managers and team members have to be contacted or resources sifted through. So, while BPM can optimize processes on a small scale, such tasks must have broader relevance to be worth the effort.
Does that mean BPM is outdated? Not at all! It still offers a way to inject human insight into improving essential processes and can even utilize automation via more modern BPM tools. The issue is that the practices of BPM need to be updated to cope with modern business capabilities.
Richard Firth said this excellently: “Think of the benefits that bringing analytics, mobile, big data and social into business processes could bring in terms of better decision-making and improved agility.”
Is BPMN still a relevant tool?
BPMN is designed to help users provide a clear overview of processes from start to finish. It still offers several benefits, including:
- Creating visual paths that are easy to comprehend
- Supporting collaboration and communication
- Simple customization for audiences of different roles and backgrounds
- A clear method for identifying issues and areas for improvement
- Helping to reduce errors, optimize efficiency and productivity, and guarantee compliance
It’s also true that taking a granular approach can often be beneficial, such as when discussing non-automated workflows or outlining how new tools, practices, or processes will be implemented. BPMN can also be applied generally across an organization, even to Agile methods, making it a valuable tool to have on hand.
That said, there is no question that BPM is evolving. There is more focus on digitization and automation, making it important to apply tools like BPMN selectively. Like Lean ways of working, the crux of BPMN is still extremely relevant – it simply needs to accommodate more recent developments.
A better question would be, is BPMN adequate? For this, the answer is a resounding no. Remember, BPMN 2.0 was released in 2011 and updated in 2014, with no further releases from the Object Management Group (OMG). This may be less than a decade ago, but a great deal has happened during that time that BPMN practitioners must be capable of taking into account.
For BPM to be relevant and constructive, users must consider:
- Technological and digital elements that have become prominent in recent years, such as the Internet of Things
- Greater interconnectivity within organizations, as well as with services and products
- Whether the process they are optimizing is worth the time
- Whether they can utilize automated BPM tools
As a modelling language, BPMN undoubtedly continues to set a high standard. For users, however, learning to supplement BPMN with additional tools and considerations is vital for its continued application.