BPMN Introduction

The evolution of software is a frightening thing, and we have come to an age where we can actually construct a system just by drawing business processes in BPMN. In particular, software products called “BPM suites” automatically generate input/output screens from tasks with rounded corners. In short, when a process flows to a certain task, the person in charge of that task is automatically required to input data.

By the way, BPM suites don’t have a great difference in terms of objectives when compared to “workflow software.” The concept of workflow software is contained within BPM suites, so the difference might be like tuna and fish. (Hm??)

However, because a business process can be defined with pictures and shapes, it is easy to define complicated rules such as loops and splits, and even to change the definition of a process.

There are surprisingly numerous and detailed notation rules in BPMN. However, even BPM suites that proclaim “BPMN Support” often cannot interpret and process 90% of BPMN in practice. Furthermore, what is supported differs among the products.

If you want to pin up business process diagrams on the wall and make them common knowledge, or if you want to define specifications to order a custom-made information system, you might want to learn many of the rules. But if your goal is just to input data into BPM suites, you only have to learn the rules supported by the product you use. Below you will find general summaries of what you can expect in BPM suites, leaving the detailed specification of each product to the vendors.

  • Activities (5 types of markers)
    Many software products only support regular tasks, and none of the icons are supported.
  • Start/Intermediate/End Events (10 types of markers)
    Many software products can start processes upon receipt of incoming emails (Message Start Event). Some can send emails in the middle of (Message Throwing Intermediate Event) and at the end of (Message Throwing End Event) a process. Also, in some products, a pre-defined time can automatically start an event (Timer Intermediate Event) or process (Timer Start Event).
  • Gateways (5 types of markers)
    Many software  products support Exclusive-Data splits (XOR), and Parallel splits (AND). Some also support Inclusive splits (OR). Most do not support Exclusive-event splits (Event-based XOR split)

As we stated earlier, BPMN cannot define how to handle data. Neither can it define the position or authority of members who execute the business processes. BPMN also tolerates ambiguous representations of process flows. To go even further, we would have to say that it is quite possible to draw one business process in multiple ways. Also, in order to define the detailed specification of a business process, you might need to use separate documents. In some cases, you might even want to separately summarize the consideration about risks that a business process could suffer from.

However, BPMN business process diagrams can intuitively communicate business processes to many viewers. Discussions for improvements

  • Discussions for improvements (illustration of current situation), discussions for improvements (illustration of the situation after improvement), analysis of possible risks
  • For explanation
    New employee training (business manual), reports to stockholders (business flow related to SOX Act)

Furthermore, by using software such as BPM suites, an organization can grasp the actual process status, including the current situation or the results of a particular time period.

  • For control
    Standardization (elimination of individual and arbitrary methods), prevention of dishonesty (task logs)
  • For productivity improvement
    Retention monitoring (faster recovery from errors), improvement of re-usability of deliverables
  • For personnel evaluation
    Measurement of productivity by individual or group, measurement of productivity per time unit

The reasons for learning BPMN differ greatly on the person, but you might want to first consider which of the above goals fits your purpose. Of course, there is no better way than learning together as a team sharing the same goals.

Finally, our last chapter together. We find it hard to hold back our tears at the thought of you reading thus far; we can hardly see your face. (Not that you could see it in the first place.)

The source of a company’s competence is in its business processes. A company must continuously modify its business processes. And a company must keep on understanding and sharing its ever-changing business processes.

We highly recommend promoting Business Process Management using BPMN, instead of relying too much on the knowledge of long-time employees.


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