The Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) has gained major interest from industry and academia. But do we actually need it?

Do we need process modeling?

Process-oriented thinking helps you understand what you actually do in your organization and how the different activities relate. It reveals who depends on whom and what document is created where and why.

Process models help you eliminate waste in your operations and serves as map for pinpointing where you want to change. Process models help you communicate and assign responsibilities for decisions and activities to people.

Process models also help you think about where IT support is useful and where it isn’t.

Do we need process modeling? Of course, we do.

Do we need a process modeling standard?

Once you have decided to look at your organization through the process glasses, you need to think about how to document your processes. Text is a good start. Excel might even be better. But visual modeling truly has a benefit when it comes to communicating ideas between people.

Now you start using boxes and arrows. You understand what you model. But as soon as you show the model to your colleagues they might not immediately get it. Are these activities alternatives or do they run in parallel? Where do I see who actually carries out the activity?

Agreeing on a common language makes sense. It makes communication easier. A ‘+’ indicates parallelism and rounded rectangles are activities. Too easy.

And now it comes to tooling. Handdrawings are fine, but they will get lost on your desk. You want to send models to other people and they should look nice. Imagine every tool comes with its own way of representing activities or parallelism.

If you send your employees to process modeling training or enjoy training yourself, you want to be sure that you can actually use that knowledge.

You definitely want a standard! Having a standard eases communication, facilitates the use of different tools and assures that your training hits the point.

Do we need BPMN then?

Well, first of all: It is a standard. OMG supervises the standardization process and every major vendor supports it. That’s a good thing.

You will definitely be happy with BPMN when using the basic parts of the language. But there has been quite a dispute over whether all those advanced features of BPMN are really needed.

Regarding this discussion I really agree with Bruce Silver’s opinion. One of the key benefits of BPMN is that you are not restricted to model the simple stuff. Of course, you can keep your models simple if you want. But BPMN provides the means to introduce a lot of precision into your models at the same time.

BPMN does not force you to only model the happy path. You can also specify what happens if business exceptions occur. You can model that there are time constraints in your processes. You can distinguish between dependencies within your organization and dependencies between different organizations. You can structure your model hierarchically.

And finally, BPMN simply looks sexy. With its icons, it really seems to fascinate people. I have never met anybody who wouldn’t immediately understand the difference between a timeout and a message arrival.

I like BPMN, I have to admit. And I am sure you will like it too once you start modeling.