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Business Process Model and Notation: Process & Examples

Instructor: Ronald Price

Ron has held a variety of positions in higher ed and business, including 25+ years as an instructor and 20+ years as a corporate senior manager, and consultant.

Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) provides a standard that provides for a common understanding between business process designers and business process technical developers. This lesson gives a general orientation and an example of how BPMN is used.

The BPMN Standard

Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) is an international standard for graphically modeling business processes. A BPMN model allows a business to show its internal business processes and procedures in a graphical form (notation). In the BPMN notation form, the model provides a standard for presentation and the basis for common understanding. The BPMN graphical notation can also communicate new or modified transaction processing between cooperating or partnering businesses. The BPMN standard is published by the Object Management Group, Inc.

Business Process Notation

BPMN is used to diagram a business process start to finish. BPMN can be used for a variety of reasons: documenting an existing process, analyzing a process for possible improvements, or modeling a new process as a solution to an existing problem. However, BPMN's largest benefit is it provides a communication medium between technical and non-technical employees of a business. BPMN has been adopted by a large number of businesses for a variety of reasons, including:

  • BPMN is an open standard, meaning it is not owned by a specific software vendor or consultant, that provides a common process modeling language.
  • The symbols provided in drawing software packages can and do vary for flowcharts and process flows. In the BPMN standard, each shape and symbol has a specific meaning and use, which provides for a common understanding of the action being described. However, like all standards, the BPMN standard can be violated simply by misusing its symbols, at the risk of creating confusion.
  • BPMN provides a process description that can be shared by both business practitioners and Information Technology (IT) professionals because other process modeling standards, such as Unified Modeling Language (UML) and Integrated Definition Methods (IDEF), and others, considered to be IT standards, have not been accepted by business application users.

BPMN Symbols

The symbols used in a BPMN diagram are defined in four primary categories, as shown in Figure 1.:

Figure 1. Samples of the BPMN diagramming symbols
Samples of the BPMN diagramming symbols

  • Flow objects: Symbols representing the core elements of a process as:
    • Events: An event is a two-part symbol made up of an outer circle with an icon inside the circle that represents an event type, such as a message, a timer, an error, a signal, or multiple related actions.
    • Activities: An activity shows which of four standard types of work a process performs: tasks, task groups (sub-processes), transactions, or call activities. Figure 1 shows the different symbols used to represent these activities.
    • Gateways: A gateway separate or combine flow objects. The standard gateway types include event-based, exclusive, exclusive event-based, inclusive, parallel, and parallel event-based. Event-based gateways evaluate which of one or more events occurred to determine the subsequent path. Exclusive gateways evaluates a business process and redirects the flow to one or more mutually exclusive paths. A Parallel gateway allows two non-competing tasks to occur simultaneously. Those gateways that include an event-based condition (exclusive event-based and parallel event-based) start processes either in series or parallel depending on the result of an event.
  • Connecting objects: As their name suggests, these symbols are the lines that connect flow objects. The three different connecting object types are:
    • Associations: a dotted line used to indicate a relationship between artifacts and flow objects.
    • Message flows: a small circle at the originating end with a dashed line terminated with an arrowhead that represents a message from one process or person to another.
    • Sequence flows: a solid line terminated with an arrowhead used to indicate sequence and flow.
  • Pools and lanes: A pool groups together two or more lanes of a common process. Lanes, also called swimlanes, are used to separate concurrent events, separations of duty, assigned responsibilities, and more, by separating each event, responsibility, sub-process into a separate column or row. Figure 2 shows an example of a pool and its lanes.

Figure 2. A BPMN pool showing tasks assigned in lanes
A BPMN pool showing lanes

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