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What is Business Process Modeling Notation?

Jess Rhodes
Jess Rhodes

Business Process Modeling Notation is a set of suggested standards for the graphical notation of business processes. This notation standardizes the shapes used in business process diagrams and visualization tools. Business Process Modeling Notation simplifies the transmission of information for users across organizational boundaries while maintaining the inherent complexity of business processes. Many business process software programs have benefited from its creation.

First established in 2004 by the Business Process Management Initiative, Business Process Modeling Notation is now managed and updated by the Object Management Group in the US, an international non-profit consortium of hundreds of businesses with the purpose of setting standards. Business Process Modeling Notation, although maintained by the group, remains a recommended standard, and businesses are not required to comply with them. The process standards are regularly reviewed and updated.

Businessman with a briefcase
Businessman with a briefcase

Some graphical elements of Business Process Management Notation include flow objects, connectors and swimlanes. Flow object notation denotes events with circles, activities with rectangles and decisions with diamonds. Connectors show how processes move sequentially or how they are related through the use of arrows, and swimlanes organize activities into separate visual sections to express different responsibilities or capabilities. These are often used for situations occurring between more than two participants or businesses.

Business Process Modeling Notation aims to improve business process management by creating a common and understandable graphical language for all users. A lack of common notation can present difficulties when attempting to train new employees, streamline mergers, or create business-to-business process maps. Standard notation reduces this fragmentation, often helping bridge the gap between the diagnosis of process problems and the implementation of changes.

Much business process software has been simplified by the creation of Business Process Modeling Notation. Having a common graphical language for the system can facilitate software updates, diagram alterations and the sharing of reports across businesses. For those businesses that utilize the standardized notation before shifting to business process software, utilizing the same graphics may also decrease the learning curve for employees.

While standardization might be beneficial in regard to software implementation and standardization, not all employees or businesses understand the notation guidelines as of yet. Some consultants and managers, therefore, opt out of using Business Process Modeling Notation in lieu of the faster option of creating graphics based on personal discretion. The format will, thus, need to become more widespread in order to serve its purpose as a commonly understood language.

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