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NEW – What is BPMN? Standard notation for process modeling

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What is Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN)

What is Business Process Modeling and Notation?

If processes had an official language, that language would be BPMN. Business Process Modeling and Notation (BPMN) is an open standard graphical representation of a business’s processes and workflows. It is a flowchart that depicts the participants, options, and direction of said processes using standardized graphics and images. The BPMN is a standard propagated and published by the OMG.

The graphics used in Business Process Model and Notation are created to be intricate but simple to read. So simple that you wouldn’t need IT knowledge to understand it. Its simplicity makes it possible for executives, analysts, and tech implementation employees to use the same graphic to promote optimization and digitalization. Gone are the days when business processes needed thousands of documents and files. 

Summarily, business process modeling and notation (BPMN) describes the steps involved in a business process, the participants of those processes, the business rules, and the documents involved. 

If you would like to read only a summary of BPMN, click here. 

When to Use BPMN

Regardless of how valuable a tool might be, knowing precisely when you should use it is far more essential.

When describing a business process, you can decide to do so through various methods. Usually, the most helpful is a pictorial diagram, this means using pictures to describe the different elements of the process. Although there are different pictorial diagram options, the business process model and notation (BPMN) standard is the most recommended.  

As with flowcharts, you can use a BPM tool in numerous stages in a project’s lifecycle. For example, it might be employed at the beginning of your project to comprehend your current or “As-Is” state. Furthermore, as the project advances and begins to take shape, a “To-Be” model can be developed. Business Process Modeling and Notation is utilized when it’s crucial to visualize the steps involved in completing a particular project, the order in which they must be executed, and who is in charge of carrying out each task.

Here are some scenarios when you can use BPMN:

  • Formally modeling the business process to make it easier to describe and understand for others (be it other professionals in the same organization or any other analyst). The person in charge of their business process knows all the steps and people involved. Still, it can be hard to communicate that information to others. BPMN helps to extract their information and translate it into a diagram.
  • Executing those processes is a vital feature of the BPMN standard. You can use a BPMN engine to take the modeling and execute it without needing to code.
  • Share, discover and improve your business processes. When you document how the process works, you can later share that information and discuss it with other team members. A vital functionality in many tools is allowing you to share the diagram easily. There is no doubt that a business model is indeed abstract. Still, this abstraction is ultimately needed to discuss and improve business processes.

BPMN Goals

After asking the question “What is BPMN?”, one might also be tempted to ask follow-up questions regarding what it’s for. So here we’ll present three primary goals of this tool.

  1. The primary goal of BPMN is to provide a set of artifacts that you can use to properly and fully describe a business process. Any business user can use it. It does not need computer developers’ help, coding, or any IT knowledge. Teammates from HR, Customer Success, and any department can use this technology.
  2. The second relevant goal in BPMN is how complete it is. What do we mean by this? It means that business users can model every business process, no matter how complex. They have a complete set of artifacts that allow you to describe their business process’s behavior.
  3. Lastly, being a worldwide standard. Most people who work with processes around the world know this standard.  Most people who work with processes around the world know and use this standard. 

BPMN Perspectives

As far as modeling languages go, none are as significant as BPMN. It has been widely adopted worldwide as the formal standard since before it was propagated by the Object Management Group (OMG). The introduction of BPMN changed the game regarding how business processes were modeled. It produced a more thorough standard for business process modeling by adopting a more extensive collection of symbols and notations for Business Process diagrams. 

We can expect that BPMN will continue growing and being adopted worldwide. Whether we like it or not, we are entering a hyper-automated era. More and more organizations will use this notation to improve their competitiveness. In this hyper-automation environment, modeling business process is just the first step. Organizations need it to add intelligence to their processes, be it AI, chatbot, etc. First, you model every business, and then you can replace steps with intelligent artifacts.

How BPMN Works

As we’ve already stated, a BPMN diagram is a graphic diagram that allows business users to model and automate their business processes using different artifacts. While some artifacts are extremely easy to use, others can be more sophisticated and complex. The latter may require extensive training and an understanding of its intricacies and capabilities to utilize them more efficiently. 

However, the wide accessibility of BPMN has made it so that you can create an efficient and detailed business process model, even without fully understanding the more complex artifacts. All that is required is that you know the fundamental basics of how BPMN works, and after this article, you’ll be an expert. 

A generic business process model diagram.

A business process model made using simple artifacts and notations. This model showcases a Business Process Proposal process.

The BPMN language is based on flowcharts and graphical notations. The notations can be separated into four categories for diagramming:

  • Flow Objects: Descriptive items used to describe a process, such as events, activities, and gateways. Processes are typically initiated by a start event, followed by activities/tasks and gateways (decision points), and terminated by an end event. Complex processes also incorporate sub-processes and intermediate events, as well as several sorts of gateways to demonstrate how the workflow proceeds through the diagram. For example, an exclusive gateway has only one movement choice. However, an inclusive gateway provides possibilities based on the selection made at the gateway.
  • Connecting Objects: Symbols used to link flow objects such as message flows, sequence flows, and associations. The flows are illustrated by dashed or straight lines with arrows, whereas associations are represented by a dotted line to indicate that specific documents or artifacts are associated with a specific event or gateway.
  • Swimlanes: These are containers that separate one set of activities from another, such as pools and lanes. Pools are the key actors in a process illustrated through a BPMN diagram. A distinct pool could represent a different organization, department, or consumer involved in the process. Lanes inside the pool depict the activities and flow for a certain job role or participant, identifying who is responsible for various steps of a process.
  • Artifacts: Additional information about the workflow, such as data objects, groups, and annotations. A data object represents the data required for an activity, a group represents a logical grouping of activities, and an annotation describes what is happening in a specific area of the diagram. This is the information required or generated to carry out a business process. It includes data inputs, data outputs, data objects, and data repositories.

On the other hand, you can use all the artifacts to model very complex and advanced set behaviors of your processes. To execute this, BPMN provides several artifacts which can enable you to model very complex situations. As stated earlier, these artifacts are more complex to understand and use, but mastery of these artifacts can yield increased flexibility and versatility of your business process models.

Types Of BPMN Diagrams

BPMN diagrams can be either simple or complex diagrams that can depict the intricacies involved in either or both internal and external processes. They are generally classified into three categories. Which are:

  • Collaboration Diagram: Shows interactions between two or more processes using more than one pool. The collaboration diagram focuses on the work done by each pool, and they can send messages to one another.
  • Choreography Diagram: This shows interactions between two or more participants. The choreography diagram can be included in collaboration by adding tasks and sequences that define how the participants interact more thoroughly. Moreover, this diagram can be expanded with sub-choreographies.
  • Conversation Diagram: A conversation diagram is a simplified version of a collaboration diagram, showing a group of related message exchanges in a business process. Furthermore, the conversation diagram can be further expanded with sub-conversations.

Aside from this formal means of classifying BPMN diagrams, other forms of classification are more business user-friendly. In this form, two categories are used to classify the BPMN diagrams. They are:

  • Simple Diagrams: These diagrams are generally easy to comprehend because they use the basic artifact set. These artifacts include: the user task, the gateway, and the timer used to set up due dates or timed events, etc. With simple diagrams, even if the process model created is a large diagram, it still tends to be easy to comprehend.

A simple BPMN diagram using only a few sets of artifacts.

Complex Diagrams: On the other hand, complex diagrams use the complete set of artifacts that the BPMN standard provides. The advantage of using the artifacts that the BPMN standard provides is that it allows users to describe every business situation. They can depict virtually any business process of a company or organization, but it does so by sacrificing easy understandability. In this case, to understand the defined business process, the user must already have extensive knowledge of how all the artifacts work and interact with each other.

A complex BPMN diagram using a large variety of artifacts.

At Flokzu, we use simple diagrams and carefully select the most common subset of BPMN artifacts used and depicted in most business scenarios. This way, you can create and model a diagram for most administrative processes using just a few artifacts of the BPMN standard. By doing this, we’ve created an all-inclusive atmosphere for all business users to appreciate, discuss and improve their processes.

As we’ve mentioned, the possible downside could be that specific business processes that are too complex could be challenging to model. Regardless, we’ve made this decision because we are substantially accelerating the adoption and automation of business processes for everyone, not just IT professionals.

The Value Of BPMN

Due to its wide accessibility, the usefulness and impact of BPMN can be felt in almost every industry. As a result, the BPMN standard has become a universal language used to represent many business processes. 

The value of BPMN can be seen in its helping organizations do the following:

  • Reach faster conclusions on current and future processes through unambiguous models.
  • Facilitate thorough analysis and improvement of operations all over the company.
  • Provide a library of process flows, case definitions, and business rules to aid in the training of new employees.

From Marketing to the Finance and Sales department, the value of BPMN cannot be overstated. Take an onboarding process in the Human Resources department as an example.

Summarily, onboarding a new hire is usually a typical process. It can include introducing them to their role in a company, sharing material they need to read, see or sign, or any other specific task. Of course, several steps are involved when bringing someone on board to join a company, but using a BPMN, you can efficiently model a diagram depicting each step along the way to ensure it’s as successful as possible, making it an improvement for both the employer and the employee.

Business process model diagram depicting Onboarding process in Human Resources Department.

The value of BPMN can also be observed in the processes of a manufacturing company. Take the process of creating a new product as an example. This complex process involves numerous steps such as the design, funding, and marketing for said product, sourcing legal documentation, distribution of the product, etc. Moreover, some of these tasks need to be carried out simultaneously.

Using a BPMN diagram, you will have this complex process aligned to make all the steps involved streamlined and easier to perform. In addition, automating this process will help the organization identify any operation bottlenecks so that sound measures are made to fix them. All this can result in increased business operation and organization effectiveness and efficiency. 

Furthermore, BPMN diagrams assist teams in creating the XML (Extensible Markup Language) documents required to conduct various processes, such as contract approvals or monthly financial report reminders.

BPMN Elements And Symbols

Throughout this article, we have explained that BPMN is a complete standard comprising a full set of artifacts. Here’s a complete list of the artifacts:





An Event is something that “happens” during a Process or Choreography. These Events affect the model’s flow and usually have a cause (trigger) or an impact (result). Events are circles with open centers that allow internal markers to distinguish between distinct triggers or outcomes. They are classified into three sorts based on when they influence the flow: start, intermediate, and end.


An Activity is a broad term for a corporation’s activity as part of a Process. It can either be atomic or non-atomic (compound). A Process Model contains two types of Activities: Sub-Process and Task. Both ordinary Processes and Choreographies make use of Activities.


A Gateway is used in a Process and a Choreography to govern the divergence and convergence of Sequence Flows. As a result, it will determine path branching, forking, merging, and joining. In addition, internal indicators will indicate the type of behavior control.

Sequence Flow

A Sequence Flow is used to depict the sequence in which Activities in a Process and Choreography are done.

Message Flow

A Message Flow depicts the flow of messages between two Participants who are both ready to transmit and receive them.


An Association connects information and artifacts to graphical elements in BPMN. An arrowhead on the Association indicates a flow direction (e.g., data) when appropriate.


A Pool is the graphical representation of a Participant in a Collaboration.


A Lane is a sub-partition within a Process and can extend the entire length of the Process, either vertically or horizontally. Activities are organized and classified using lanes.

Data Object

Data Objects contain information about the activities that must be completed. Data Objects can represent either a single object or a group of objects.


A Message represents the content of a communication between two Participants.

Group (a box around a group of objects within the same category)

A Group is a collection of graphical elements that belong to the same Category. This grouping does not affect the Sequence Flows within the Group.

Text Annotation (attached with an Association)

Text Annotations allow a modeler to supply additional text information to a BPMN Diagram reader.

Flow Dimension (e.g. Start, Intermediate, End)






A Start event indicates where a particular Process or Choreography starts.

An intermediate event occurs between a Start event and an End event.

An End event indicates where a Process or Choreography ends.

Task (Atomic)

A Task is an atomic Activity that is part of a Process. A Task is utilized when the work in the Process is not broken down to a finer level of Process detail.

Process/Sub-Process (non-atomic)

The Sub-Process boundary is extended, and the details (a Process) are viewable within it.


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