bpmn

What Is BPMN? BPMN In A Nutshell

Business Process Modeling Notation was developed in 2004 by the Business Process Management Initiative (BPMI)  – a non-profit organization promoting the standardization of common business processes. Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) is a way to model the steps of a planned business process by using a flow chart.

Understanding BPMN

A standard BPMN helps a business understand its internal processes in graphical notation. It is targeted at the people involved in the process, giving them just enough detail to enable precise implementation. What’s more, BPMN facilitates a standard language that can easily be communicated to stakeholders. These may include business analysts, managers, technical developers, and external teams or consultants.

Primarily, BPMN is used to improve process efficiency, account for new circumstances, and gain a competitive advantage. Each process is visually depicted on a flow chart detailing the sequence of business activities and informational flow required to complete a process.

Since it was released, BPMN has been revised and updated. In 2011, a new version incorporated a richer set of symbols and notations for process diagrams. Another update three years later saw BPMN complemented by a decision flow chart to improve its decision flow capability. 

Elements of a BPMN flow chart 

There are four main elements to a BPMN flow chart.

  1. Flow objects – such as events, activities (tasks), or gateways – which break a business process into two or more mutually exclusive paths.
  2. Connecting objects – denoting sequence flow, message flow, and association.
  3. Swim lanes – here, a pool defines the major participants of a process, while a lane defines the activities each participant is responsible for performing.
  4. Artifacts – these encompass data objects, groups, and annotations. Data objects show the data necessary for a specific activity. Groups show a logical grouping of activities but importantly, do not impact the flow of the diagram. Annotations provide flow chart explanations where necessary.

BPMN sub-models

Sub-models allows technical and non-technical viewers to differentiate between sections of the BPMN flow chart. This allows them to concentrate on parts of the diagram most applicable to their needs

There are three general sub-models:

  1. Private business processes – or those processes internal to a specific organization that do not cross organizational boundaries. Process flow is contained within a pool.
  2. Abstract business processes – describing interactions between a private business process and some other process or participant. Abstract diagrams show external stakeholders the sequence of messages required to interact with a process, but do not reveal the process itself.
  3. Collaborative business processes – as the name suggests, this sub-type depicts the interaction between two or more business entities. Interactions are displayed by a sequence of activities representing message exchange patterns.

BPMN best practices

There are a few general tips for creating effective BPMN flow charts:

  • Ensure the scope of a process is defined with a clear beginning and end.
  • Map the business process first to highlight and then address any inefficiencies. 
  • The flow chart itself should not be larger than a single, poster-sized page. 
  • Sequence flows should be laid out horizontally, with associations and data flows laid out vertically.
  • As noted earlier, different versions of the diagram should be created for different stakeholders depending on their role.
  • Lastly, BPMN should not be used for charting organizational structure or functional breakdowns. While it does depict limited information flow, BPMN is not a valid type of data flow diagram (DFD).

Key takeaways:

  • BPMN, or Business Process Modeling Notation, is a means of graphically depicting business processes on a flow chart.
  • BPMN flow charts have four key elements: flow objects, connecting objects, swim lanes, and artifacts.
  • Before drafting a BPMN, the organization must define a clear scope and any existing process inefficiencies. The chart itself should not be larger than poster size, with sequence flows arranged horizontally and associations and data flows arranged vertically.

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Gennaro Cuofano

Gennaro is the creator of FourWeekMBA which reached over a million business students, executives, and aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020 alone | He is also Head of Business Development for a high-tech startup, which he helped grow at double-digit rate | Gennaro earned an International MBA with emphasis on Corporate Finance and Business Strategy | Visit The FourWeekMBA BizSchool | Or Get The FourWeekMBA Flagship Book "100+ Business Models"