Everyone Should Learn BPMN

Ok ok…maybe not everyone, but, if you need to convey the nuances of complex business process with precision and brevity, Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) is worth taking a look at.  Here’s why I love BPMN and use it almost exclusively to capture even the simplest of processes in an elegant drawing.

BPMN is Compact

You can say a lot in a very small space.  Take a look at this example…

BPMN Compare

Both drawings depict the same process.

  1. Do some manual step repeatedly until finished or until 30 minutes has elapsed
  2. Then run a script to complete the next step

The BPMN drawing on the left depicts in the first shape that the step is manual (the hand icon) and that it is to be repeated (the recursive arrow), that there is a time limit (the clock icon on the shape border).  The standard drawing on the right, uses three shapes to convey the same instructions.  This may not seem to be a significant difference in this example, but over the course of a process with hundreds of steps and multiple conditional branches, this conservation of space is critical to developing a clear vision of the workflow.

BPMN is Precise

There is little room for ambiguity.  The rules for BPMN are specific and, while the specifications offer alternative representations, within each construct, the rules are clear.  Where a standard drawing relies on the author’s ability to describe a process step, BPMN uses symbols.  Symbols are universal, intuitive and language independent.  Once you learn just a few basic symbols and rules, it is far easier to see a process at a glance without having to read through a lot of descriptive text.  Here is a brief legend of some of the most commonly used BPMN symbols.

BPMN Legend

Learn More

BPMN.org – The Object Management Group (OMG) controls the BPMN standard.  This is the authoritative site.

“Real Life BPMN” by Jakob Freund and Bernd Rucker describes the standard and principles in detail and gives excellent advice on demystifying BPMN for everyday use.

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