There’s a right way to go about planning out your business process, no matter the size or complexity. It’s called business process modeling notation, or BPMN.
What is Business Process Modeling Notation
What every business process manager knows is that this type of planning is meant for use, is meant for implementation, but there’s more to it. BPMN is a tool used for learning, for delving deep into the essential cogs of the machine that is your business.
It’s also a tool for analysis, for detecting potential and existing problem areas within a given process. More than all that, though, BPMN is a universal language that helps people all over the world put to paper what might be a real-life system of activities and events that can be broken down into parts for you to understand. Follow along on your guide to business process modeling notation!
Events of every kind can be introduced into a process, and they always require a response. Start events, for example, are the way that a process begins, and they begin with an introduction of the workload, and of any beginning rules or materials that set the pace for the process in general.
Start events require the response of initiation, of moving a process along to its first activity or gateway (decision point). End events, similarly, create a place for the final response, the finished output of the process.
Other events can be used to highlight specific moments in the process that are necessarily notable, like a goal being reached — but in the end, a response to an event doesn’t change the workload, and therefore, it’s generally a stimulus or action that exists just outside the process.
After all, the process is characterized by change, which brings us to the next part of every process: the activity.
Activities in a process are where change happens. The smallest unit of change within any given process is a task, the most basic type of activity — and it can vary greatly, with tasks encompassing everything from physical to digital actions, and most of them having a direct effect on the workload, or on something that later affects the workload as it travels through the process.
BPMN is very clear about tasks, often noting how long a task takes, and even the capacity of a task — or how many units of a workload can be processed through a specific task at one time. This capacity and the rate at which an activity completes are strong indicators of how long it takes to deliver a specific product or service through a complete business process.
But tasks aren’t the only activities that can take up time in a process: an activity can consist of a micro-process, or a subprocess — in many cases the same concept as a microservice. Whatever the name, activities are the places where a workload leaves different from how it entered.
The change may be small, or it may be monumental, but it’s always defined that way — with an activity at the heart of it all. Without even one activity, a process doesn’t exist, so in a way, you can think of these as the building block of every business process.
Gateways, or decision points, are places where the process diverges or converges paths. It’s where a decision occurs, where separate flows become one, or where one flow can become several. In some cases, a gateway can only have one true outcome.
In these cases, known as exclusive gateways, the decision made here is an “either/or” decision. However, there are other gateways that are inclusive — meaning they allow both paths to coexist when they are both deemed “true” by whatever decision is made.
Capacity, Flow Time, and More
Business process modeling notation has various values that are meant to help you determine crucial measurements regarding the performance and capabilities of your business process. One such value is the capacity of a given activity. At any given point in a process, you may find that you can allow more than one workload “flow unit” through at a time in a certain step in the process.
Not only is this a crucial thing to know for planning purposes, but it’s also part of the equation to determine the flow rate. Flow time, the other part of that equation is of course the time that one flow unit moves from beginning to end of a process.
With the flow time of a given process, and the general flow unit capacity of that process, you can determine flow rate — and use that information to continually analyze and improve your approach to the process that provides your services and products.
Learning about things like flow time and capacity are essential to the management part of BPM, and to making process notation make sense in your specific business’s context.
Whether it’s learning the easiest way to calculate flow rate, or figuring out how to notate the various types of gateways in your process model, there’s a lot of information to gather about BPMN.
However, by taking the first steps and following this guide to the notation elements, you’ll understand it a lot more, and you’ll find it a lot more useful as you practice.
Just remember, it’s all about change; what you can understand, analyze, and measure in that change makes your business process model all the more useful, so keep on notating!