For decades, businesses have been seeking that management ‘holy grail’ which can offer them the capability of understanding their internal business procedures in a graphical notation, while giving them the ability to communicate these procedures in a standard manner. Nowadays, the solution exists by means of a human readable language for defining the structure and contents of a process, as incorporated in Business Process Management Notation (BPMN). Among others, BPMN has been credited with facilitating the understanding of the performance collaborations and business transactions between organisations. In a nutshell, BPMN enables businesses to understand themselves and other players within their business environment, whilst allowing them to adjust to new internal and B2B business circumstances quickly.
The primary goal of BPMN is to provide a notation that is readily understandable by all business users, including the business analysts that create the initial drafts for all the processes through the development of workflows, the technical developers who are responsible for implementing the technology that performs those processes, and ultimately for management, which puts into action and monitors those processes. For more than a decade, BPMN has been the de facto standard for process modelling, primarily because it provides a familiar look and feel to business analysts, besides providing a powerful tool to express business process models.
How does BPMN work?
Putting it simply, BPMN is a language. This means that it has a defined vocabulary with its own semantics. As such, it allows organisations to use that language to tell the stories of the work that they do. These could be stories about how the organisation interacts with its customers, how it handles its finances, or how it works with its employees and manages human resources. As a language, BPMN allows organisations to create and define, in a reusable format, the work that they do. Indeed, BPMN has proven to be a rich language and versatile tool, allowing professionals in the area to define a multitude of business scenarios, ranging from internal process choreographies, to inter-organisational process orchestrations, service interactions, and workflow exceptions. It should therefore come as no surprise that BPMN has been rapidly evolving as an increasingly important standard for process modelling, enjoying high levels of attention and widespread adoption in practice, not least by tool vendors, education providers, as well as by modelling coaches and consultants.
The evolution of BPMN
Before delving deeper in to the application of BPMN, it is worthwhile tracing its development over the past years. In 2004, the BPMN version 1.0 was presented as a standard business process modelling language. Its development was considered to be an important step in reducing the fragmentation that had been observed between existing process modelling tools and notations. Later, we saw the development of BPMN’s Version 2.0, and its release in 2011. BPMN 2.0 represents a significant evolution of the original standard, extending the scope and capabilities of BPMN in several areas, thus rendering BPMN 2.0 a model and a notation. Nowadays, BPMN 2.0 models can be used to communicate and interchange the requirements of a business process, while providing support for the actual process implementation.
Mapping business processes
As many of you will already know, mapping business processes allows one to take stock of processes before going on to improve them. Looking at processes which are mapped enables one to see the big picture and understand the process flow properly. When mapping, there are a number of tips that can prove useful. First of all, one should attempt mapping the process ‘AS IS’, taking a general approach and ignoring process exceptions. One should also avoid cutting corners and make the effort of roping in all those involved in executing the process - their feedback will be critical. Moreover, communication is key, so make sure you keep everybody in the loop by sharing the first draft after documenting it digitally.
Mapping out the ‘AS IS’ state facilitates the identification of what improvements need to be made to make processes ‘leaner’ and more efficient. In this regard, BPMN models provide a high-level programming language designed to facilitate an understanding, by non-technical personnel within a company, of the flow of processes, and identify the changes required.
Mapping processes through BPMN
Mapping processes through a BPMN standardised method allows one to see clearly how everything in the business works, while saving time by eliminating unnecessary tasks. From a human perspective, the implementation of such methods reduces the rate of employees forgetting, overlooking or wrongly executing work. BPMN also incorporates the functionality of representing situations such as information moving between teams, data being stored on the cloud, and departments working in parallel on the same process.
Significantly, BPMN process mapping allows non-technical people to easily understand the methodology executed (the activities and tasks involved), and the related flow of information, essentially because it is a simple, intuitive method. Its broad acceptance as the way to draw process maps derives from the fact that it is simple and easy to understand at a glance, especially by non-technical users - usually top executives and management. Moreover, it is precise, with a wide range of symbols to cover every use case and is designed to model both human-centric and IT processes with equal accuracy. BPMN also offers the fundamental versatility required to model very complex business processes and can be naturally mapped to business execution languages.
Choosing a notation for your process modelling
Over the years, we have seen multiple options for process modelling notations being developed and introduced on the market. So how does a modeler select which notation he or she should use in their process modelling effort? Naturally, one should select the best kind of notation that fits one’s modelling purpose.
As a rule, one would advise to check out the benefits of picking a standard BPMN tool, primarily because these usually have an ecosystem around them in terms of tools and resources that support that standard. The availability of books, papers, training material, and expertise, for that particular standard, will give you the comfort and peace of mind of knowing that you are pairing your methodology with one of the most widely used notations in BPN practice. Moreover, BPMN-based notations will generally allow for a gradual adoption, while at the same time being fast and scalable. The growing company can thus automate successive processes according to the growth pattern of its operations. By modifying the BPMN workflow model, management can rapidly iterate, change and test procedures before rolling them out for users to execute.
In essence, therefore, one can conclude that through BPMN 2.0 notation, efficiency and effectiveness are increased, mainly by reducing costs and improving the quality of the process. On the other hand, having the processes formalised and automated through a BPMN 2.0 based tool enhances scalability and evolution, while enabling consistency and quality in the ultimate execution of repeatable tasks. And finally, BPMN empowers people and ensures they are aligned behind a common goal, with the knowledge about how to achieve it being properly shared and managed.