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What Is Business Process Modelling Notation?

business process modelling notation

Business process mapping is a visual representation of how a business process and its steps play out.

The way this is represented visually can vary greatly depending on the approach and model used. From swim lane diagrams to flow charts, to more complex forms of mapping, the sky is truly the limit.

But in the last two decades, Business Process Modelling Notation (BPMN), has truly emerged as the main option championed by business analysts.

In this blog, we’ll go over BPMN, how it’s used, and some alternatives for those of you who’re looking for other options for your process mapping.

What Is BPMN? 

Business Process Modelling Notation or BPMN is specifically used to map and visualise business processes. It merges together several other forms of process mapping under the banner of a common notation, ensuring that everyone is on the same page about meaning.

It was originally published by the Business Process Management Initiative in 2004, but since 2005 is maintained by the Object Management Group consortium. Thanks to their maintenance, the notation remains controlled and there is a group to refer to for meaning and gaining expertise. Having an industry standard removes the ambiguity of other process mapping alternatives.

BPMN has very specific meanings and symbols that bridges the communication gap between process design and implementation. Until recently, it was considered the simplest and best way to capture the complexity of a business process.

The main goal of BPMN is clarity for process improvement and business success and growth.

Having diagramed their existing process utilising the notation, organisations can then find spots where making changes will improve their efficiency and outcomes. Some examples of this are changing procurement locations or automating certain time-consuming tasks

The roles most likely to interact with the process maps are business analysts, technical experts, and managers. Just as important are stakeholders, however, as they are the ones who eventually sign off on the final process.

And it is not always easy for them to follow along enough to sign off.

Why?

Well, to understand that, we need to know how BPMN works. 

How Is BPMN Used?

BPMN is a mix of several approaches to business process mapping in one. In this way, it is able to account for the complexity of business processes. And it differs from the others because it was created with the express purpose of being used for business processes as opposed to being adapted.

BPMN is made up of:

  • Flow elements: the parts of the process that define its behaviour. As you may guess, this is taken from flowcharts. They include:
    • Activities: the tasks that are part of a process, for example, generating a receipt. Sometimes they have attached sub-processes,
    • Events: something that occurs, externally or internally, that will affect the process. The best example is the start of a process, as that will have an event triggering its need.
    • Gateways: typically serve as an ‘OR’ option to account for parallel outcomes, they document the different possible flows. 
    • Sequence flows: an arrow connecting sequential events.
    • Message flows: document how messages are communicated between different swim lane pools – between different departments.
    • Data: when you need to attach a particular data set to a part of the process, for example an invoice.
    • Groups: sometimes certain parts of the process have to be continuously grouped together and this demonstrates it.
    • Text annotations: provide additional context when needed.
  • Swim lanes: just like a regular swim lane diagram, it is how BPMN demonstrates responsibility during a process.
  • Connecting objects: they are shown as arrows, the different types of arrows have different meanings of how that flow element connects to the process.
  • Artifacts: additional information boxes connected with dotted lines, brief enough that they are not a separate process.
  • Data: information that is needed or is produced during a business process. There are different kinds of data as well. 

Does it seem like a lot?

That would be because it is. 

To put it in perspective, in 2016, in order to use BPMN correctly, you had to study a PDF of 538 pages. You can be certified specifically in BPMN.

While this is great for subject-matter experts, it does not translate well as a tool for stakeholders or average employees to understand. And it can cause a loss of important knowledge if you constantly rely on external experts to help you.

So what can you turn to?

BPMN makes use of other types of approaches, and none of those work quite well either.

Enter Universal Process Notation.

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UPN Is the Superior Alternative to Business Process Modelling Notation 

Universal Process Notation (UPN) focuses on two things: simplicity and clarity.

BPMN’s visual complexity and it’s complicated symbol approach mentioned above make it difficult for the average person to interact with its process maps. And because there’s so many symbols, there is room for error and personal interpretation.

Not to mention, often due to the complexity, information has to be discarded to avoid a messy, convoluted flow. Having to selectively pick and choose certain data sets or steps over others means that inevitably something will get lost.

And because it relies on swim lane diagrams to demonstrate responsibility, often in workshops it is necessary to read the entire title of the box, the action, to make sure everyone understands what is being talked about.

UPN took all of the best parts of BPMN and simplified them, which is why we have built our software around it here at Skore.

UPN’s notation is simple and easy to understand, so that all involved parties can follow along. Whether they are a subject-matter expert, a stakeholder with a busy schedule, or a manager explaining their role, no one requires special certification to understand the flow. 

And because UPN was designed for computers, it works incredibly well for collaborative approaches, whether they are in real time or asynchronous, as our Skore software demonstrates. 

Furthermore, because it is designed for computers and software, adding sub-processes is a lot easier and more accessible. It declutters and removes the visual complexity, but it ensures that the information is still there, so at no point have you had to leave something out.

Parallel processes can also be shown and deconstructed without fuss.

This is in large part because UPN, and by extension Skore, show the process sequentially. It focuses on what is happening, before and after what else, why, and it leaves room to identify by who in that same space. It is so much easier to follow along and there is no confusion about the next step or who is in charge of what.

With Skore, adding additional data is no longer more noise on your diagram. Simply attach the relevant documentation to the correct step, and you can refer back to it with ease without being cluttered in the overall process. 

Additionally, you can provide your stakeholders and clients with either a bird’s eye view of your business process, or drill down to specific details in sub-processes as needed. And no one has to consult a manual or bring in an expert to guide you. If anyone has a suggestion, it can be mapped at the speed of conversation so that you can work your way through the new process in real time.

Not convinced yet?

Our clients have been able to achieve an increase in use by mapping out their processes, work in tandem with their own clients from different industries by mapping processes out together, and improve communication flows within their own company.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg of what we can help you achieve

For a visual idea, you can always take a look at our workshops. We practice what we preach, and seeing Skore in action and how easy it is to use has served to convert more than one prospective customer to our side. 

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Conclusion 

BPMN is a great option for business process mapping, and one that combines the strengths of several adopted approaches.

Or at least it was until UPN came around.

We’re biased, we know, but when it comes to clarity and ease of use, there is no better path to mapping processes than UPN.

If you’re looking to improve your business process maps and want to take control of your business, you’ve come to the right place.


Get in touch and we’ll be more than happy to help you out!