Understanding how work is done within an organization is very important in deciding change. To do this, business analysts may use a model to see how business processes work within a unit. A business process is a repeatable flow of activities initiated by a business event that may have multiple paths to completion.
So why do we model business processes? A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide) version 2.0 defines business process models as follows:
“A [business] process model is a visual representation of the sequential flow and control logic of a set of related activities or actions.” (9.21.2)"
We model to see how multiple people or groups collaborate over a period of time to perform work. These processes are often complex. A model is a simplified view of the entire business unit that can be drilled down to varying degrees of detail.
Two states can be modeled: the “as-is” or current state and the “to-be” or future state. We often model a number of future states based on requirements, and then we decide the change management process as we then decide how to get from the current state to that future state.
Modeling business processes helps with many things, including but not limited to:
- eliminating irrelevant details,
- presenting processes in a common format for all stakeholders,
- assessing efficiency, and
- understanding cost.
Start with a set of questions to determine what information is required. Begin with a “one-pager”, a high-level overview that captures the key elements. Then, drill down layer-by-layer until the required level of detail is reached. At that point, a stakeholder may wish to expand specific processes, but it is important to drill down not by individual process, but by the entire model as the whole.
Business Process Modeling vs. Use Cases
Use Cases define specific processes as a series of sequential steps with alternate flows where necessary. Process Modeling is a collection of processes in an entire business unit (e.g. organization, department, operation). Take, for example, handling a mortgage. A Use Case may detail how to perform any one process, such as applying for a mortgage. A Process Model will include every process involved in handling a mortgage, including applying, reviewing, renewing, canceling, etc. A use case provides an individual narrative, where a process model will collect all relevant narratives in one model.
UML vs. BPMN
The two most widely used notations are Unified Modeling Language (UML) and Business Process Model Notation (BPMN). With the introduction of BPMN, UML is being used more for systems modeling and BPMN has surpassed it as the best practice for business process modeling. However you can still use UML quite comfortably to model business processes.
Each notation uses its own unique symbols and terminology, but all models consist of the same basic parts:
- Activity: triggered by an event, an activity within a process
- Event: an action (manual or automated), condition (rule), or temporal instance (passage or period of time), that triggers an action or process
- Gateway: a split pathway in sequence flow, where either multiple paths may be taken or a decision on a path must be made per a condition
- Flow: the direction of the sequence, or order of events and actions
- Swimlanes: a visual distinction of responsibility, or who is doing what, within a process
One significant advantage of BPMN is the inclusion of intermediate events. These allow that, if in the middle of a group of activities something fails, you can break out of the whole group of activities and branch out into exception handling. BPMN is more powerful than UML, and looks a little better. Models are easy to read and understand, but can often be difficult to write. As you gain experience in modeling processes, there are more techniques and symbols you can learn to make your models more effective.
Modeling business processes is a simple way to examine all the ways in which work is done within an organization. No matter the requirements, process modeling can be an easy way to display, strategize and manage change for all different types of stakeholders.