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Why BPMN: the origin and the reasons for its adoption

Processes Blog

BPMN

Today BPMN (Business Process Model and Notation) is the most reliable approach to model the business processes of a company or an administration. As a modelling language, it has become the standard in the computer science industry, especially adopted by banks, insurance companies and telecoms. The emergence of a new form of thought like BPMN didn’t occur arbitrarily. It’s the response to an important set of unsatisfied expectations. In the specific case of BPMN, those expectations not only come from business analysts or IT experts, but also from all kinds of decision makers.

The Expectation

Clearly, an unified, efficient and easy to adopt notation, was necessary as a means of communication between stakeholders. There were many problems arising from the lack of notation: difficulty to precisely translate the expectations of the departments involved, errors in communication and guidelines transfer, lack of efficiency in performing a number of tasks, and finally insufficient control in monitoring the business processes progress. These problems, if not addressed, lead to loss of productivity and a poor use of resources, time and money.

Many companies and administrations have addressed these problems in an "ad hoc" way, introducing their own communication methods. But often, especially in large organizations, these methods were not the same from one department to another, contributing to generate confusion. And even if they did call the same method throughout the organization, this method was not always understood by the concerned employees, as well as by third parties, which had a negative impact either on employee productivity or in the interaction with other companies and partners.

Scenario

Let’s suppose that in a software development company, the management decides to improve the testing process in order to avoid the possible appearance of a number errors in the production stage. In a first step, this expectation will be transmit to the person in charge of the tests. It is essential for the employee to be able to reproduce the expected process in an accurately and understandable way, especially with regard to policymakers. Wherever possible, this communication should avoid too technical details (eg the words CVS or commit) and focus on high-level activities (for example, "the introduction of new control points in the process"). If this communication is effective, the company will have established a framework from which they will be able to make further improvements to the concerned process.

Previous solutions to BPMN

One of the choices made by some companies was the adoption of their own communication modes. To continue with the previous example, the Testing department will be able to provide support to communicate its testing process by means of charts, assigning specific meaning to the various elements of the latter.

In this way, the service will be able to disseminate and explain the testing process, aided by this "language", which typically is excellent from a visual representation point of view, but lacks of precise syntax and semantics.

That said, as well as the Testing service may have solved in an ad hoc way this problem, it could also be the case for other departments: Sales, Maintenance, Logistics, etc. If the Company management wishes to review business processes involving more than one department - for example, before the release of a new version of a product, the Marketing and Finance departments approval is needed - we could come back to the initial situation. Due to the fact that each department has developed its own language, meetings between all stakeholders will result in a collage of arrows and graphs, difficult to understand. Besides, this implies that management must "learn" each of the concerned department’s language. Obviously, this is not tolerable.

But if instead of each department developing its own communication mode, they all use a known language, then the problem is solved, especially for transverse processes throughout the organization - which is increasingly common. Once policymakers have learned the new language, communication will accelerate and become more efficient, due to the fact that the improvements are done in a language known by all stakeholders.

Bruno van Dam - CTO BPMCYT

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