What is BPMN? The Easy Guide to Business Process Modeling Notation

Updated on: 12 December 2023 | 13 min read
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In this guide, we will delve into what is BPMN, including its history, when and how to use it, and the benefits it brings to the table. We’ll explore BPMN diagrams, their elements, and symbols, and provide examples to illustrate their practical applications. Additionally, we’ll discuss the challenges of creating BPMN diagrams and how tools like Creately can simplify the process.

What is BPMN?

Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) is a standardized diagramming language that provides a graphical representation of business processes, enabling organizations to document, analyze, and optimize their workflows. Unlike traditional flowcharts, BPMN diagrams are rich with specific symbols and notations that cater to the complexities of modern business activities.

Here’s what sets BPMN apart:

  • Standardization: BPMN is a globally recognized standard, ensuring consistency and clarity across various stakeholders and software tools.
  • Expressiveness: With a comprehensive set of symbols, BPMN can illustrate complex process dynamics such as parallel tasks, events, and decision gateways.
  • Versatility: It’s suitable for both technical users who design and implement processes and business stakeholders who need to understand them.

While other process modeling languages exist, BPMN’s widespread adoption is due to its balance of simplicity and expressiveness. It bridges the gap between the technical implementation of processes and the business strategy that guides them.

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History of BPMN

Here are some key milestones that have shaped BPMN into the robust framework it is today. These milestones not only reflect the technical advancements but also the collaborative efforts of key organizations and figures dedicated to the development of BPMN.

History of BPMN

When to Use BPMN

BPMN diagrams are particularly beneficial in scenarios where clear communication and detailed process mapping are essential. Here are some appropriate use cases for BPMN diagrams:

  • Complex workflow visualization: When dealing with intricate workflows that involve multiple stakeholders, BPMN diagrams provide a standardized method to visualize and communicate the processes.

  • Business process improvement: BPMN is ideal for identifying bottlenecks and inefficiencies in existing processes, helping teams to optimize and refine their workflows.

  • System integration planning: For projects that require the integration of various systems, BPMN diagrams can outline the interactions and data flow between these systems, leading to a smoother integration.

BPMN Examples

BPMN diagrams serve as a universal language, bridging the gap between process design and implementation. Let’s delve into some illustrative examples from various industries:

  • Healthcare: A BPMN diagram can map out patient admission processes, making sure that each step from registration to discharge is clearly defined and optimized for efficiency and patient care.
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  • Manufacturing: BPMN diagrams are used to streamline production workflows, identifying bottlenecks and enabling seamless coordination between different departments, from procurement to shipping.
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  • Banking: In the banking sector, BPMN diagrams facilitate the visualization of loan approval processes, making it easier to identify areas for improvement and ensure compliance with regulatory standards.
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Features of BPMN

Business Process Model and Notation is renowned for its extensive set of elements and symbols. Each element represents different activities, decisions, and flows within a business process, ensuring that every detail can be captured.

  • Task and activity symbols: From simple tasks to complex subprocesses, BPMN includes a variety of symbols to denote work being done.
  • Gateway symbols: Decision points in a process are clearly depicted with gateway symbols, guiding the flow based on conditions.
  • Event symbols: Events that trigger or result from process steps are represented with distinct symbols, indicating start, intermediate, and end states.
  • Connecting objects: Sequence flows, message flows, and associations are the lifelines that connect elements, illustrating the interaction between different parts of the process.
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BPMN 2.0 Diagram Elements and Symbols

Understanding the core elements of BPMN 2.0 diagrams is crucial for anyone involved in business process modeling. These elements are represented by a variety of symbols, each with a specific meaning and purpose within the BPMN framework.

BPMN 2.0 Diagram Elements and Symbols

ObjectDescription
EventRepresents something that happens during the course of a process. There are various types of events, including start events, intermediate events, and end events.
ActivityRepresents a task or work that needs to be performed. It can be a task, subprocess, or transaction.
Sequence FlowIndicates the order in which activities are performed.
Message FlowRepresents the flow of messages between two entities.
AssociationConnects artifacts, data, or text annotations to activities or flow objects.
Exclusive GatewayRepresents a decision where only one path can be taken.
Inclusive GatewayRepresents a decision where multiple paths can be taken.
Parallel GatewayRepresents a point in the process where multiple activities can occur in parallel.
Complex GatewayRepresents a decision that involves complex conditions.
PoolRepresents a participant in the process, often used to denote different organizations or departments.
LaneText
ParagraphDivides a pool into sub-divisions, typically representing different roles or responsibilities within a participant.
Data ObjectRepresents data used or produced within a process.
GroupGroups related elements together in a visual manner.
Text AnnotationProvides additional information or comments.

Benefits of BPMN

BPMN offers many benefits that streamline organizational processes and improve operational efficiency. Here are some of the key advantages:

  • Streamlining process management and communication: BPMN diagrams serve as a universal language, allowing stakeholders from different departments or even different organizations to understand and manage complex processes with ease. This common visual language eliminates ambiguity and fosters clear communication.

  • Improving documentation and compliance tracking: With BPMN, documenting processes becomes more structured and standardized, which is crucial for maintaining compliance with industry regulations. The BPMN diagram can be used as a reference point to make sure all regulatory requirements are met.

  • Facilitating process automation and improvement: BPMN is not just about mapping out current processes; it’s also a tool for identifying areas of improvement. Inefficiencies become obvious when you visualize the workflow, so you can automate and continuously improve it.

How to Create a BPMN Diagram

Creating a BPMN diagram involves visually representing the steps and components of a business process.

Step 1: Identify the Process

Clearly define the boundaries and scope of the business process you want to model using BPMN.

Step 2: Choose a Tool

Choose a BPMN-compliant modeling tool. For example, you can use Creately’s BPMN software to quickly visualize your business processes. It comes with pre-made templates and an extensive shape libraries for BPMN 2.0, flowcharts, & process maps, real-time collaboration and powerful diagramming and AI capabilities.

Step 3: Draw the BPMN diagram

  • Begin your BPMN diagram with a start event. This represents the initiation point of the process.
  • Use rounded rectangles to represent activities or tasks within the process. Place them in sequence to show the flow of the process.
  • Use diamond-shaped gateways to represent decision points in the process. These indicate where the flow can take different paths based on conditions.
  • Use arrows to connect activities in the order they occur. Sequence flows represent the flow of the process from one task to the next.
  • Use parallel gateways to show parallel paths in the process. Use exclusive gateways for mutually exclusive paths based on conditions.
  • Represent the completion points of the process using end events. There can be different types of end events, such as normal end, error end, or cancel end.
  • Use data objects to represent data exchanged between activities. Include artifacts such as annotations or groups to provide additional information.
  • If your process involves collaboration between different entities, use pools to represent separate participants and lanes to represent their specific responsibilities.
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Step 4: Annotate and Document

Add annotations to provide additional information or details about specific elements in the diagram. Document any relevant information that enhances understanding.

Step 5: Validate and Review

Share the BPMN diagram with stakeholders to validate its accuracy and completeness. Address any feedback or questions.

BPMN Subprocesses

In BPMN, sub-models or subprocesses are used to represent a modular and hierarchical structure within a larger process. Subprocesses make complex processes more manageable and understandable. There are two main types of subprocesses in BPMN:

Collapsed subprocess

A collapsed subprocess represents a subprocess at a higher level of abstraction. It is shown as a single shape, often a rounded rectangle, with a plus sign inside. This indicates that there is more detail hidden within the subprocess. When a BPMN diagram is intended for a higher-level overview, collapsed subprocesses provide a concise representation.

Expanded subprocess

An expanded subprocess provides a detailed view of the subprocess within the main process. When you expand a subprocess, you reveal the internal activities, events, and gateways that make up that subprocess. The expanded subprocess allows for a more in-depth understanding of the contained activities and their relationships.

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Key points about sub-models in BPMN

  • Reusable components: Subprocesses can be reused in multiple places within a BPMN diagram or even in different BPMN diagrams. This promotes modularity and consistency across processes.

  • Separation of concerns: Subprocesses support the separation of concerns by breaking down a complex process into smaller, more manageable parts. Each subprocess can represent a specific aspect or functionality of the overall process.

  • Encapsulation: Subprocesses encapsulate a set of activities, events, and gateways, providing a higher-level abstraction. This can improve the readability of the main process and make it easier to focus on specific aspects.

  • Call activities: BPMN includes a specific element called a “Call Activity” to represent the invocation of a reusable subprocess. A Call Activity can reference a subprocess defined elsewhere, allowing for modular design and consistent use of subprocesses across processes.

  • Transaction subprocess: BPMN also supports a special type of subprocess called a “Transaction Subprocess,” which allows for the modeling of transactional behavior, including compensation activities in case of failures.

Quick Tips for Drawing More Effective BPMN Diagrams

  • Understand your process: Gain a deep understanding of the business process before starting the diagram. Clearly define the scope, objectives, and key activities.

  • Follow BPMN standards: Adhere to BPMN standards to maintain consistency and compatibility with BPMN-compliant tools.

  • Sequence flow clarity: Clearly define the sequence flow between activities. Ensure a logical and easily understandable order of execution.

  • Correctly use gateways: Understand and correctly use gateways (decision, inclusive, exclusive) to represent branching and merging points in the process.

  • Use swimlanes wisely: Pools and lanes help visualize collaboration, so use them when appropriate for your process.

  • Annotate and document: Add annotations to explain complex parts of the process. Use comments or documentation to provide additional details.

  • Simplify complex processes: Break down complex processes into subprocesses or use expansion markers to simplify the view.

  • Consider process improvement: Use the BPMN diagram as a basis for process improvement discussions within your organization.

The Goal of BPMN

The goal of BPMN is to establish a standardized visual language to represent business processes, fostering collaboration and clear communication. BPMN provides a universally accepted notation, facilitating the modeling and documentation of complex processes, as well as analysis, optimization, and automation. From design to execution and continuous improvement, it supports business processes throughout their lifecycle, bridging the gap between business and technical professionals. Ultimately, BPMN serves as a powerful tool to improve understanding, streamline communication, and drive efficiency in business process management.

Why Use BPMN

Organizations use BPMN to improve communication, collaboration, and understanding of their business processes. Here’s why they are important;

1. Standardized notation

BPMN provides a standardized notation that is widely accepted in the business process management domain. This common language ensures consistency and clarity in communicating business processes.

2. Clear visualization

It allows for the clear and intuitive visualization of complex business processes, making it easier for stakeholders to understand, analyze, and improve workflows.

3. Communication

BPMN serves as a communication tool between business and technical stakeholders. It bridges the gap between business analysts and IT professionals by providing a shared visual language.

4. Process improvement

Organizations use BPMN to model existing business processes and identify areas for improvement. It supports the analysis and optimization of workflows to boost efficiency and effectiveness.

5. Process automation

BPMN is often used in conjunction with business process automation tools. The standardized notation allows for a smoother transition from process design to automated execution.

6. Training and onboarding

BPMN diagrams serve as valuable training materials for new employees, providing a visual guide to understand how various processes within an organization work.

7. Risk management

BPMN allows organizations to identify potential bottlenecks, risks, and inefficiencies in their processes, enabling proactive risk management strategies.

Challenges of Creating a BPMN Diagram

It can be hard to create a BPMN diagram, even for the most technically savvy product managers. Intricacies of BPMN notation combined with complicated business processes can lead to these problems:

ChallengeSolution
Complexity and detailVisualizing elaborate business processes can lead to complex BPMN diagrams.Simplify, use subprocesses, and focus on high-level views.
Stakeholder collaborationMaking sure collaboration among diverse stakeholders with varying expertise.Facilitate workshops, seek input, and use BPMN as a visual bridge.
Selecting the right level of detailBalancing detail for understanding without overwhelming viewers.Tailor detail to the audience and purpose, emphasizing key elements.
Tool selection and trainingChoosing the right BPMN tool and maintaining team proficiency.Select user-friendly tools aligned with needs, and provide training for proficiency.

BPMN vs. UML

BPMN (Business Process Model and Notation) is designed for modeling business processes, focusing on visualizing and improving workflows. In contrast, UML (Unified Modeling Language) is a broader modeling language used in software engineering for designing and documenting software systems. BPMN is tailored for business stakeholders, while UML is primarily used by software developers and technical stakeholders. While both use standardized notations, BPMN emphasizes business processes' temporal aspects, and UML covers a wider range of software design aspects. Organizations may use one or both depending on their project needs.

BPMN Vs. Flowchart

BPMN (Business Process Model and Notation) is specialized for modeling business processes with standardized symbols, focusing on clarity and communication for business stakeholders. Flowcharts, more versatile in application, doesn’t have strict standardization and can represent various processes beyond business, providing flexibility in detail and symbols. The choice depends on the specific purpose and audience of the diagram.

How Creately Can Help You to Create a BPMN Diagram

Creating a BPMN diagram can be a complex task, but with Creately, the process becomes significantly more manageable. Here’s how you can use Creately to draw a comprehensive BPMN diagram;

Easily create complex BPMN diagrams

With standard BPMN 2.0 shapes and ready-to-use templates to create complex BPMN diagrams easily. Quickly change visual attributes of the diagrams using the quick toolbar and host multiple templates to analyze them side by side on the infinite canvas.

Capture process requirements effectively

Use the integrated notes for each shape to capture and document process details and embed documents, add images, and attach links for better context. Or embed images, documents, videos, etc. relevant to the process directly on the canvas for quick reference. Keep track of changes made to the diagram with version control.

Collaborate and share easily across teams

Easily control access to public & private process details for external stakeholders with advanced workspace sharing options and collaborate with cross-functional teams & clients on a shared canvas. Connect with your existing tools and workflows with powerful integrations for Confluence, Microsoft Teams, Google Workspace, etc.

Learn how to create a BPMN diagram with Creately.

As we wrap up our exploration of BPMN, it’s clear that this standardized language has a significant impact on business efficiency. By providing a clear and consistent way to document processes, BPMN helps organizations to analyze and improve their operations effectively.

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Author

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Amanda Athuraliya Communications Specialist

Amanda Athuraliya is the communication specialist/content writer at Creately, online diagramming and collaboration tool. She is an avid reader, a budding writer and a passionate researcher who loves to write about all kinds of topics.

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