Business process modeling is a process of transforming actual business processes into models. The question, which occurs is whether modeling is worth the spent time and money?
In the following lines, the arguments which support process modeling are presented as well as some preconditions which should be met for effective modeling.
Business process characteristics
First, let’s make clear what a business process is and what characterizes it. A process is a set of related activities, which change process inputs into process outputs (Figure 1). In case of a business process, these outputs are products or services which are useful for customers.
Business processes are organization’s capabilities, a type of assets, which are invisible and intangible. But they are of great importance for companies, since they represent knowledge on how to use or manage other organizational assets in order to produce something useful.
Another characteristic of business processes is that they cannot be bought in a store. Instead they are unique for each company or even customer. This means that business processes need to be defined and evolved within a company.
But how can they be defined and evolved within a company if they are invisible and intangible?
Why should we model a business process?
These intangible and invisible assets (i.e. business processes) can be visualized with graphical symbols in a similar way as music is visualized with notes (Figure 2) or talk is visualized with an alphabet.
Process-related visualizations are known under the terms business process diagrams or business process models. So business process diagrams are actually representations of real-world business processes. And if we are capable to visualize business processes, we can actually observe, analyze and improve them.
But some preconditions should be met to improve the usefulness of business process diagrams.
Process diagrams should reflect processes
Models are representations of real-world objects or phenomenon (Figure 3), where their usefulness improves with their precision as well simplicity.
Models need to be simple to enable analysis, observations, simulations, predictions or improvements. On the other hand, if they do not reflect the actual phenomenon or object, they are useless.
In case of business process models, they should reflect actual processes, which means that they should incorporate all the required details is a specified view (e.g. representing activities, information flows, or exceptions). In case a modeling notation doesn’t support a specific process concept (e.g. an exception flow or synchronization of flows) the corresponding process’s concept cannot be properly represented on a diagram.
Consequently, the diagram might be invalid and the corresponding diagram-based decisions incomplete or inaccurate.
Representing music with musical notes or talk with an alphabet enable us to store, observe, analyze and improve them. Besides, it enables us to exchange music or notes in space (i.e. sending musical notes to someone on another continent) and time (i.e. playing music which has been written centuries ago).
It’s similar with business process diagrams. They enable us to communicate about processes, in case all the involved parties speak equal language (i.e. understand the process diagram symbols). Therefore, a modeler should use a standardized notation (Figure 4).
One of business process’s characteristics is that they change and evolve permanently, which means that a business process diagram is actually a snapshot of a real-world process in a specific time (i.e. in past). In other words, a business process diagram is outdated as soon it has been created.
In case of making process-related decisions on an outdated diagram, they might be wrong. For example, if a process is automated according to an outdated model, the workflow application will be useless. This means that the process of creating business process diagrams should be simple, enabling modelers to quickly adapt process diagrams to process changes.
BPMN is currently the best choice for business process modeling, since it addresses all above preconditions for effective modeling. BPMN is well defined and standardized, which means that independent modelers can interpret BPMN diagrams in the same way.
Besides, BPMN notation is rich, meaning that it enables us to properly represent (the concepts of) actual business processes.
And finally BPMN is well supported with IT tools, which enable effective and efficient modeling.