Cool things you can do with BPMN diagrams (part 1)

One of my favorite parts of process modeling trainings is discussing with participants how do they plan to use those skills. It is a matter of process maturity in an organization (since some of the scenarios require some BPM know-how), specific goals and planned initiatives of the organizations (if you have a budget for process improvement probably you should try to make this project a success instead of adding several other elements to the scope), but also being aware of what is possible.

The goal of this post series is to give you some ideas of how process models (especially BPMN Business Process Diagrams) can be used.

1) Communicate with others

Probably this is the most common use of the graphical process diagrams. We model processes to show how does the process look like currently (AS-IS modeling). Pretty often, the most valuable result of the process modeling is not a diagram itself, but a shared understanding between key stakeholders involved in this process. Model can serve as a lingua franca (common language) between people from various organizational units, showing them what needs to be done, by whom and when. This transparency helps avoid lots of misunderstandings.

For this purpose, it is important to make sure end-users can read and understand the process diagram, so usually it is better to create an easy-to-read diagram compliant with the notation rules, than use super fancy and complicated elements that readers may not know or confuse readers with non-standard use of the notation elements.

Most BPMN tools can be used for this scenario: diagramming tools (draw.io, Lucidchart, Visio, …), Enterprise Business Process Analysis tools (ADONIS, ARIS, iGrafx, …), Model Based Software Engineering tools (Enterprise Architect, Visual Paradigm, …). Key aspect is to make sure models are easy to access and consume.

2) Teach others

Process diagrams can not only serve as an overview of the process steps, but also show process participants more detailed instructions about what do they need to do. The first step to make your BPMN diagrams useful both for current employees who run the process and need to refresh their memory from time to time or new employees who need to learn how to run the process is to add descriptions to the tasks. Pretty commonly, those useful hints can be shown to the readers of the diagrams without a need to click on a diagram element. But it is not all! While pure BPMN does not have that many business-oriented attributes, it can be extended by tool vendors with additional elements such as RACI information, links to the applications and documents used in a process step, risks, and much more. If you extend your diagram in such a way, it can also be a basis for generating PDF procedures, SOPs, and similar documents.

Since pure BPMN may not be sufficient here, you may want to use EBPA tools for this purpose. MBSE tools can be a bit too technical here and diagramming tools usually just create pretty pictures without many business attributes you may need.

3) Show the connections and dependencies between the processes

BPMN is a great way to show detailed processes. But it is not the best option to show a full process architecture. Of course, you can show that a diagram calls some other process using the sub-process element, but you do not have a nice way to show processes that precede or follow your process. Unless you combine your BPMN diagrams with models showing process architecture! This way you can combine the best elements of the two worlds: BPMN as a standard for documenting detailed processes and business-oriented approach for documenting the business process architecture which is available in your tool. Spoiler alert—while there is no single standard for this, pretty likely you will see chevron icons for processes 😉

For this element you obviously need a tool with something mode than only BPMN. All EBPA tools I am aware of, support this possibility and allow you to analyze your process architecture in a powerful way. Most MBSE tools can be used there too, but results may not be as visually compelling. Diagramming tools may not be the best choice for this one.

To be continued…

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