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.

BPMN ElementDescriptionImplicationsKey CharacteristicsExamplesApplications
ProcessA high-level representation of a business process or workflow, often consisting of multiple tasks and activities.– Provides an overview of the entire process. – Identifies the sequence of tasks and activities. – Serves as a visual blueprint for process design and improvement.– Rectangular shape with rounded corners.– “Order Processing” – “Customer Onboarding” – “Expense Approval”– Process Documentation: Create visual representations of existing processes. – Process Improvement: Analyze and optimize existing processes. – Process Design: Develop new processes or workflows. – Process Automation: Automate and execute processes based on BPMN diagrams.
Start EventRepresents the beginning point of a process or workflow, indicating where the process is initiated.– Signals the trigger that initiates the process. – Often external events or actions that start the workflow.– Rounded circle shape with an icon depicting the trigger.– “Customer submits an order.” – “New employee onboarding request received.” – “Invoice received from a vendor.”– Process Modeling: Identify and define the starting point of a process. – Workflow Automation: Define triggers for automated workflows. – Event-driven processes: Design processes based on external events or actions.
End EventRepresents the conclusion or endpoint of a process, indicating where the process reaches its conclusion.– Signals the completion or outcome of the process. – May lead to various outcomes or subsequent processes.– Rounded circle shape with an icon depicting the outcome.– “Order shipped to the customer.” – “Employee onboarding completed.” – “Invoice paid and recorded.”– Process Modeling: Define and visualize the conclusion points of a process. – Workflow Automation: Define outcomes that trigger subsequent actions. – Process Analysis: Identify process completion and potential bottlenecks.
TaskRepresents an individual activity or task within the process that must be completed as part of the workflow.– Specifies the actions or steps required to achieve a specific goal. – Tasks can be manual or automated, depending on the process.– Rectangular shape with rounded corners.– “Review customer order.” – “Data entry and validation.” – “Approve expense report.”– Process Documentation: Define and document individual tasks within processes. – Task Assignment: Assign tasks to individuals or roles in workflows. – Process Automation: Implement automated tasks for efficiency. – Task Management: Track and manage task progress.
GatewayRepresents a decision point or branching within a process, where the flow of the process can take different paths based on conditions or criteria.– Directs the flow of the process based on defined conditions. – Supports decision-making and branching logic in workflows.– Diamond shape with a symbol indicating the type of gateway.– Exclusive Gateway (XOR): “If order is urgent, send for immediate processing.” – Parallel Gateway (AND): “Process customer payment and update inventory simultaneously.” – Inclusive Gateway (+): “Review and approve if total expense is within budget.”– Decision Modeling: Design processes with conditional flows and decision points. – Workflow Automation: Implement branching logic based on criteria. – Process Optimization: Analyze and improve decision-making within processes.
Sequence FlowRepresents the order and direction of flow between process elements, indicating the sequence in which tasks or activities are executed.– Defines the logical sequence and connections between elements. – Arrows indicate the direction of flow within the process.– Arrow connecting elements with a directional arrowhead.– “Review customer order” ➔ “Validate order data” ➔ “Approve order” ➔ “Prepare order for shipping”– Process Mapping: Visualize the flow and sequence of tasks within processes. – Workflow Design: Define the order in which tasks are executed. – Process Analysis: Identify bottlenecks or inefficiencies in process sequences.
Event-Based GatewayRepresents a decision point within a process that is triggered by external events or signals, enabling different paths based on event occurrence.– Provides flexibility to handle external events that impact the process. – Allows for event-driven branching in response to external triggers.– Diamond shape with a symbol indicating the event-based gateway.– “If payment received ➔ Continue with order processing.” – “If shipment delayed ➔ Notify customer and update order status.” – “If budget approval received ➔ Proceed with project execution.”– Event-Driven Processes: Design workflows that respond to external events or signals. – Process Automation: Implement event-based routing in automated processes. – Real-Time Process Management: Respond to dynamic changes based on external triggers.
Pool and LaneRepresents the grouping of process elements or participants in a collaborative or multi-participant process, showing their roles and responsibilities.– Visualizes the roles and responsibilities of different participants. – Enables the modeling of complex collaborative processes.– Pool: Represents the overall process container. – Lane: Represents a participant or role within the process.– Pool: “Customer Order Processing” – Lane: “Sales Team,” “Inventory Team,” “Shipping Team” – Pool: “Vendor Management” – Lane: “Procurement,” “Quality Control,” “Accounting”– Collaborative Process Modeling: Define and illustrate roles and interactions in collaborative workflows. – Multi-Participant Process Design: Model complex processes involving multiple parties. – Role-Based Workflows: Assign tasks and responsibilities to specific participants in a process.

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.

Flow objects

Such as events, activities (tasks), or gateways – which break a business process into two or more mutually exclusive paths.

Connecting objects

Denoting sequence flow, message flow, and association.

Swim lanes

Here, a pool defines the major participants of a process, while a lane defines the activities each participant is responsible for performing.


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:

Private business processes

Or those processes internal to a specific organization that do not cross organizational boundaries.

Process flow is contained within a pool.

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.

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).

BPMN example

To conclude this article, let’s take a look at a BPMN example to better acquaint those who are new to the concept.

We’ll start with the most basic of scenarios involving the order fulfillment process of an eCommerce store that sells tennis rackets.

The fundamental steps of this process could be represented in a simple BPMN model as follows:

  1. Receive tennis racket order.
  2. Check credit card credentials.
  3. Fulfill order. 
  4. Send invoice.
  5. Order complete.

At this point, it’s worth noting that we don’t yet have a process model.

This is because the linear process we have shown above does not consider activity flow paths.

Assuming some activities can be successfully or unsuccessfully performed, we will now need to include paths for both conditions.

Adding gateways to the BMPN model

Two steps in the tennis racket ordering process should be tested with a gateway: the activities “check credit card credentials” and “fulfil order”.

If the consumer’s credentials are not validated or if the order is not fulfilled for whatever reason, the order does not reach completion.

In response, we can add another possible end state labeled “order failed” to make two end states.

With two end states, we have two possible end events.

Note that this is not part of the BPMN specification as such, but rather a best practice that keeps the process representation as simple as possible.

The degree to which we differentiate process steps and end states is up to the management of the retailer.

For example, if the order was not fulfilled because a racket was out of stock, the retailer would contact their supplier to determine when new stock would arrive.

This would result in a different process flow and potentially different potential end states. 

Adding pools and swimlanes to the BPMN model

Sticking with the above example, let’s now add a pool to the diagram that encapsulates the major participants in the process.

For the sake of this example, we’ll call it the “Tennis racket ordering process”.

Now we will add three lanes to the order process to define the activities various roles people are responsible for performing.

These include a lane for sales, a lane for warehouse distribution, and a lane for finance. 

The sales lane will process the “receive tennis racket order” step and become involved in the “order failed” end state.

The finance lane, on the other hand, includes the ”check credit card credentials” step (which is tested by a gateway), the “send invoice” step, and the “order complete” end state.

Lastly, the warehouse distribution lane contains the “fulfil order” step which is also tested by a gateway that returns to the sales lane if the test fails.

Adding different task types

Tasks can be broken down further into three types, with each illustrated by a different shape in the BPMN diagram.

The three types of tasks and examples of each for our retailer include:

User tasks

Any activity performed by a person and denoted by a person symbol.

Receive order” is a task carried out by a worker in the company’s warehouse office.

Service tasks

Automated tasks with no user involved and indicated by a gear symbol.

For example, validating the buyer’s credit card is performed by a computer automatically.

Abstract/none tasks

The type we have used in the first section above which is not denoted by a particular symbol.

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.

Key Highlights

  • Origin and Purpose: BPMN, developed in 2004 by BPMI, is a standardized way of representing business processes using flowchart-like diagrams.
  • Internal Process Visualization: BPMN helps businesses visualize and understand their internal processes using graphical notation.
  • Target Audience: It is designed for those involved in the process, offering sufficient detail for precise implementation without overwhelming the users.
  • Communication Tool: BPMN provides a standardized language that can be easily communicated to stakeholders, including analysts, managers, developers, and consultants.
  • Enhancing Efficiency: BPMN is used to enhance process efficiency, adapt to changes, and achieve a competitive edge.
  • Process Visualization: Each process is visually represented in a flowchart format, outlining the sequence of activities and information flow required for completion.
  • Evolution: BPMN has undergone revisions, incorporating richer symbols and decision flow charts to improve its capabilities.
  • Flow Chart Elements:
    • Flow Objects: Events, activities (tasks), and gateways that divide processes into mutually exclusive paths.
    • Connecting Objects: Representing sequence flow, message flow, and association between elements.
    • Swim Lanes: Pools define major participants, and lanes define activities for each participant.
    • Artifacts: Including data objects, groups, and annotations that provide additional context.
  • BPMN Sub-Models:
    • Private Business Processes: Internal processes within an organization that don’t cross boundaries.
    • Abstract Business Processes: Describing interactions between private processes and other participants without revealing the process.
    • Collaborative Business Processes: Showing interactions between multiple business entities using activity sequences.
  • Best Practices:
    • Define the process scope with clear start and end points.
    • Map the business process to identify inefficiencies.
    • Keep the flow chart concise, fitting on a single page.
    • Arrange sequence flows horizontally and associations/flows vertically.
    • Tailor diagrams for different stakeholders’ roles.
  • Key Takeaways: BPMN is a tool for graphically representing business processes, helping organizations improve efficiency and adapt to changes. It involves four main elements: flow objects, connecting objects, swim lanes, and artifacts. Proper scoping, process analysis, and stakeholder communication are crucial for effective BPMN usage.

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