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The Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Business Process Modeling

A business is only as good as its processes, and businesses that improve have people who analyze and correct those processes. No business runs at its optimal level from the beginning. It takes a lot of time, thought, and effort to build a business that operates at its best. Business process modeling, also commonly called process modeling, is the ideal place to start if businesses want to improve operations.

Why Use Business Process Modeling?

Every business functions differently because each one serves its own purpose in its own industry. Business process modeling helps those within a business reflect on how it is running and how it could be running better. When a business process is outlined, problem areas and inconsistencies within that process are easier to identify.

A better understanding of business processes can increase the overall efficiency of a business. A business is more effective—and thus more productive and profitable—when improvements are made to its processes. Other benefits to business process modeling might include:

  • Operational and strategic alignment. When process modeling is a factor of concern, businesses can ensure operations and overall business strategy align with one another.
  • Establish consistency and standardization. When the best business processes are identified, they can be standardized and used consistently across the whole business.
  • Improved communication. Editing process modeling practices can improve communication throughout a business. When businesses make a shift (e.g. change of owners, new employees), process modeling can help maintain the flow of processes.
  • Transparency and accountability. Process modeling, when communicated effectively, spreads awareness and increases transparency and accountability among those working within the business.
  • Process agility. When processes improve consistently, businesses are prepared for change, especially for those which involve technological integration and advancement.
  • Ability to compete. Some competitors have a better understanding of their own businesses. The only way to compete—and survive—is to put in the time and make the necessary changes to business processes.

Businesses that excel know how the business works and how it could work better.

How to Approach a Business Process Modeling Project

The basics of a business process modeling project include an “as-is” business process model, a review of current operations and how they could improve, and a “to-be” business process model. The as-is business process model outlines the current business processes and operations. This process model is put onto paper (or into software) and maps out current business processes in the most honest way.

The next step is to use the as-is process model to identify any ineffective processes, inconsistencies within processes, problems meeting operational goals, and improvements which could be made. Characteristics of the modeling environment and what the model will be used for also affect the development of business process models. Processes are analyzed to ensure each process performs correctly and efficiently. This leads to the to-be business process model, the new process which ideally fixes the problems and inefficiencies of the current as-is business process model.

Businesses look for ineffective processes at different times of business development. Business Process Management (BPM) is the most effective form of improving business processes because it involves continuous analysis and improvement. There is always room for improvement, and the best businesses are constantly working at being better.

Workflows and Business Service Oriented Approach (BSOA)

Workflows are used to develop business processes. Workflows track all the tasks within a process, those performed manually and automatically. Workflows are used to outline all necessary information for each part of a process. The workflow approach can be very rigid and has been criticized for its inflexibility. The BSOA is far more flexible. The BSOA is focused on business services, can be reworked for each business, and may involve the implementation of technology.

Different Ways to Model Business Processes

There isn’t just one way to model business processes. With over a dozen different ways to chart and document the flow of business processes, it may be difficult for businesses to know which method to use. Businesses can use any of the following visual aids to help chart business processes:

  • Workflow Technique. Mentioned above, the workflow technique is used to map flows of tasks from people to computer applications alike. Tasks may flow in a variety of ways, and the workflow technique aims to identify all important details of each task.
  • Flow Chart Technique. Flow charts use few symbols to outline the flow of actions from each part of the business through to the end of the process. The flow chart technique is easily understood and one of the oldest techniques for outlining business processes.
  • Data Flow Diagrams (Yourdon’s Technique). These diagrams monitor the flow of raw data from the customer and through the business to meet a desired outcome.
  • Gantt Chart. Gantt charts put tasks on a time scale and are used to outline each step and the ideal amount of time it takes to complete each task.
  • Role-Activity Diagrams. Role Activity Diagrams (RADs) are used to describe desired behaviors and are among the simplest and easiest to read.
  • Role-Interaction Diagrams. A Role-Interaction Diagram (RID) identifies the roles played by the customer and departments of a business to complete necessary activities within a process. A RID is slightly more complex than some other models, but it can be flexible in its own way.
  • Colored Petri Nets (CPN). CPNs are generally used when processes are more complex. A number of processes exist in a CPN, and the color coding helps to connect each process while differentiating each network of processes.
  • Object Oriented Methods. In this method, objects and groups of objects (or classes) are documented as their states change according to the behavior of the object or class.
  • UML Activity Diagram. An object oriented method, UML activity diagrams are mainly used for development of software systems and logic of a business process.
  • Integrated Definition for Function Modeling (IDEF). There are numerous forms of IDEF, each of which are used to model processes through different business areas.
  • Simulation. Some processes are so complex that a simulation is necessary to better understand how processes would operate in the real world.

While each method for modeling business processes may help clarify objectives and improve processes, every business will want to consider which method works best for its purposes.

Process Mapping Versus Process Modeling

Business process modeling may involve both process mapping and process modeling, but there are distinct differences between mapping and modeling. Process mapping is generally broader than process modeling. Process mapping is used to identify all the departments and personnel involved in business operations and the performance of processes.

Process modeling is far more focused on the details of business processes. Process modeling is used to increase the efficiency of processes through analysis of services and desired outcomes. Both process mapping and process modeling act as visual aids, but process mapping documents how work is done (like the as-is model) while process modeling identifies how work should be done (like the to-be model).

Types of Business Process Modeling Techniques

There are numerous techniques for business process modeling. Finding the right technique requires analysis of business operations and an understanding of who will be reviewing and following a process model. Listed below are some of the most popular types of business process modeling techniques:

  • Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN). The most popular form of business process modeling, BPMN is designed for easy understanding, even for those removed from operations. BPMN consists of flow objects like events, activities, and gateways. Other building blocks of BPMN include arrows which indicate the flow of sequences, messages, and associations. Artifacts (data objects, groups, and annotations) and swim lanes are also important parts of creating a business process model using BPMN.
  • Life-cycle Modeling Language (LML). Larger or more complex systems of business operation may require different modeling languages like LML. LML is designed to capture information throughout the life-cycle of business processes. LML uses diagrams for every class including action, asset, spider, interface, hierarchy, time, location, class definition, and combined physical and functional diagrams (along with risk, organization, and pie, bar, and line graphs) to adequately capture business processes.
  • Subject-oriented business process management (S-BPM). In S-BPM, the subject is the most influential part of managing the business process. S-BPM is structured according to each subject’s part in the overall process of the organization, and it is used to improve the networking structure among all subjects, each subject playing a different role in the overall process. S-BPM is focused on maintaining proper communication among all parties by providing an easy-to-understand procedural framework.
  • Cognition enhanced Natural language Information Analysis Method (CogNIAM). The CogNIAM method uses a centralized system and is a uniform approach. The CogNIAM method is based in improving operations scientifically and uses everyday language to connect old and new members of a business to ensure everything runs smoothly.
  • Extended Business Modeling Language (xBML). The xBML is an intuitive graphical language. It is used to design diagrams based on who, what, which, when, and where factors within the company.
  • Event-driven process chain (EPC). EPC is flowchart based and uses charts to showcase the flow of events through processes. EPC is often used for resource planning while helping to outline improvements which could be made to the process.
  • CAM DEFinition (IDEF0). IDEF0 is commonly used to aid in the structuring of projects. IDEF0 is used to analyze the risk of a project, making it easier to predict the potential success of a project.
  • Unified Modeling Language (UML). Explained briefly above, UML is an object-oriented approach, one that is used to analyze the logic of business processes.
  • Formalized Administrative Notation (FAN). The FAN technique is often used to implement software that helps in resource planning and bettering customer relationships. The goal is to increase systemization.
  • Harbarian process modeling (HPM). HPM involves process diagrams and systems diagrams. The HPM method is concerned with identifying inefficiencies within a company and increase transparency of workflow, helping to identify the issues preventing the company from performing at its best.

Tips To Develop Good Business Process Models

Some businesses may not know where to start when developing business process modeling. Some may require assistance through the aid of other businesses which specialize in business process modeling. At the very least, some may require the use of business process modeling software. Listed below are some tips for developing good business process models:

  • Understand why process modeling could benefit the business.
  • Identify resources which could help.
  • Acquire all documents and forms at the start.
  • Use templates.
  • Identify all goals for process models.
  • Document business rules and and link them to business process models.
  • Develop lists of tasks and time required to complete each task and the process model as a whole.
  • Document everything.
  • Detail all steps of individual processes.
  • Highlight the outputs for each step.
  • Identify which steps are manual.
  • Identify which steps are automatic.
  • All parts of the process should be labeled, especially those which mark the beginning and end of a process.
  • Create proper labels for the type of action needed.
  • Identify the outcome for every process.
  • Validate how each process flows.
  • Use a swim lane (or left pane) to identify each job title or role.
  • Choose a clear notation and define the symbols that will be used.
  • Ensure all steps move the process along (and double-check the use of symbols).
  • Keep a key for all symbols used in the model.
  • Detail alternative routes.
  • Reuse model elements when possible (and choose the right tools to help in this).
  • Avoid making things overly complex; be a minimalist.
  • Consider using BPM software (and use the proper software most fitting of business process modeling needs).

Businesses that conduct the research and follow these tips will have it easier when it comes time to develop and edit business process models. Application of new business process models takes time and effective communication. Process modeling is hard work, but the hard work is worth it when the efficiency of the business increases.