BPMN Introduction

The Four Fundamentals of BPMN are: (Fundamentals?)

  1. Draw Oblong Rectangles and label them with company departments (swimlanes)
  2. Line up Round-Cornered Rectangles (tasks)
  3. Connect them with Arrows (sequence flow)
  4. Connect the start to a Single Narrow Circle, and the end to a Single Bold Circle (start/end events)

These are the basics. No need to memorize any terminology. There are other marks (markers) and troublesome Diamond Shapes, but let’s forget them for now.

Maybe we don’t even have to explain the above figure, but just in case:

  • A press release staff creates a draft,
  • The leader of the press release team reviews it,
  • The Legal Department judges it,
  • A Board executive approves it, and
  • The initial press release staff releases it.

It ends perfectly, with a completed cycle. It’s a simple one-way path of no options and no return, but it was drawn within a minute! (Really…?)

If you want to make it possible to go back a step, you have to create a crossroad (split), where you either go forward or go back. When you draw a lot of internal business processes, at some point you come to realize that most crossroads are simple, usually a single choice out of two options. Complicated crossroads are rare. The most common one is “OK or NG.“

The Two Fundamentals of splits are: (More fundamentals?)

  1. Give the regular flow a slash, and (default flow)
  2. Give the optional flow a small diamond (conditional flow)

A small diamond indicates the existence of a condition. You don’t have to clarify these conditions in the diagram. The slash indicates the way a process should proceed in case none of the conditions are met. If you feel like it, you can add comments on the different flows, which makes it easier for others to understand.

With these Fundamentals (Four + Two)… You can draw more than 90% of your company’s business processes. Please, try it out.

By the way, if there are only two choices, you can exchange the slash and small diamond without changing the definition of the business process.

When you are ready to go into complicated business processes, the first step is branching; in other words, choosing both (or all) flows simultaneously instead of only one.
Choosing all means you want all applicable tasks performed simultaneously under clearly defined roles. In BPMN this is simply illustrated with multiple arrows. For example, in the figure below, A: Hotel Reservation and B: Purchase Travel Ticket are simultaneously executed. (an AND-split)

By the way, business processes are often called workflows, but it’s actually very difficult to define a flow by imagining actually flowing objects . This is especially true when drawing complicated business processes. We suggest imagining a train and tracks, instead of the typical water and river, or car and roads. Trains can detach cars and proceed on different tracks, and they can come back together and proceed again as one long train.

In reality, though, branching the flow into two ways increases possible errors, such as if there is trouble on one of the tracks (Figure 3: There are no available hotel rooms), or if there is a problem with the trains reconnecting (Figure 3: Sum of hotel fee and ticket fee exceed budget).

Whenever possible, you should avoid enabling all (AND-split) or multiple (OR-split) choices, and stick to simple single (XOR split) choices.

Naturally, managing business processes (BPM) is only meaningful if you improve them. For example, let’s take the press release of Figure 2: if the initial drafts are of good quality, and also frequent enough, there’s no problem. But, in other words, this means it is entirely
dependant on the staff in charge.

Let’s rewrite it so that the leader leads the process. (Do I have to?)

By the way, swimlanes are usually labeled with departments, and someone in the appointed department executes the task, but it’s also okay to label them with a specific person or position.

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