Business Process Modeling – Techniques and notations

Business Process Modeling – In organizations and IT, the process can often be understood as a limited set of activities that are performed in response to an event, to generate output [1] and can be very simple or extremely complex [2]. It is a somewhat more ambiguous concept with different meanings, depending on the context in which it is used [3].

Thus, when contextualizing within organizations and IT, it is important to understand that having an input event to be turned into output is often referred to as a simple transformation model. This simple transformation model forms the basis for the so-called process view of an organization.

At first glance, this simplistic model hides the details of the transformation, so it is necessary to achieve a detailed analysis and design, needing to go beyond, entering the so-called “black box”, to be able to know the types of processes, the hierarchies and the determinants of the highlighted architecture (Figure 2) [3].

Business Process Modeling - Process transformation model
Figure 1: Process transformation model

The transformation model receives input and in the “black box” the transformations are performed for an indefinite number of tasks or activities, eventually triggering output of the transformations performed by the process, as previously mentioned in the process definition.

Different kind of processes

That alone is not enough to understand the full meaning and constitution of a process, so by exploring in more detail the constitution of the “black box”, it turns out that it can be constituted by different types of processes, where they are often divided into three different types [3], [4]:

  • the individual ends up being performed by separate individuals;
  • vertical or functional processes that are contained within a given functional unit;
  • and finally horizontal functional processes, which cross several units.

Equally importantly, process structures can be characterized into five main components or elements, inputs and outputs, flow units, activity network, and buffers, resources and information structure.

Business Process

The term business can be understood as an organizational entity that inserts resources to provide customers with the desired products or services, encompassing companies and others. Thus, a business process (BP) describes how something is done in an organization [3]. This can be thought as a set of short or long term activities, invoked in a specific sequence to achieve a specific business objective [5], [6], [7], involving steps performed by machines and people [8], [9]

Exploring the concept applied to IT, a metalanguage is often used to describe a business process and may invoke other support services or contain other service components such as state machines, human tasks, business rules, or business maps data [9].

Therefore, just as business processes have their principles and concepts, it is important to make a separation between business processes and workflows. It is common to encounter confusion around these two concepts. BP should not be confused with the workflow. Workflow is the way work is done, being dependent on business process support, yet driven by process logic and orchestration rules [9].

Business Process Modeling

In process modeling, there is a specific discipline known as Business Process Modeling (BPModeling). This is understood as the discipline that defines and outlines business practices, processes [10], information flows, and data storage [9], [11].

It involves using a notation such as Unified Modeling Language (UML) or Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) to capture graphical representations of key processes, workflows, and other aspects related to business logic.

Its main objective is to develop the process model, which will define the existing process flow in detail, and it will be necessary to answer the following questions in its implementation [7]:

  • What is the result of the business process?
  • What activities are performed within the business process?
  • What is the order of activities?
  • Who performs the activities?
  • What documents are exchanged within the process?
  • What are the weaknesses of the process, and how can it be extended in the future?

Traits for a good model

Keeping in mind these issues outlined in the specification, it is crucial to ensure the following traits to list, to obtain a good model. It is recommended that the template be [12]:

  • Salient– should selectively represent aspects relevant to the task at hand;
  • Accurate – must accurately systematize the current state of affairs and avoid erroneous or biased views;
  • Complete yet cautious – as simple as possible;
  • Understandable – Once you perceive the model, you must be able to understand it.

Business Process Modeling – Techniques and notations

As well as talking about the issues and traits portrayed above, which should be followed in the implementation of this discipline, it is imperative also to present the most used techniques in process modeling.

Many techniques have been tested over the years and are sometimes considered a little confusing, due to the many definitions and various ways to reach the proposed end.

It is important to know the various techniques available so that the choice fits and adapt the characteristics of the processes to be modeled, facilitating the modeling task and meeting the needs [5], [6], [11], [13].

BPMN

BPMN’s intention in business process modeling is very similar to UML’s for object-oriented design and analysis. This aims to identify best practices from existing approaches and combine them into a new, generally accepted language [5], [6], [10].

Predecessor languages to BPMN included not only graph and Petri-net based languages, but also UML and Event-Driven Process Chain (EPC) activity diagrams [8]. While these modeling languages focus on different levels of abstraction, ranging from one business level to a more technical level, BPMN aims to support the full range of abstraction levels, including business levels and software technology levels [8], [27], [15].

Diagram

This is set out in the standards document, which states: “BPMN’s primary goal is to provide a notation that is easily understandable by all business users, from business analysts who create initial process drafts to programmers responsible for implementing technology that will execute these processes and ultimately for business people who will manage and monitor these processes ”[7], [8], [16], [14], [15], [17].

Colored Petri-nets

The graphic language that provides basic primitives for building models to concurrent systems [18]. It has the characteristic of modeling discrete events as well as communication and synchronization, combining the capabilities of Petri-nets with those of a high-level programming language [5], [6], [14], [19].

Business Process Modeling - Colered Petri Nets

Data flow diagrams (DFD or Yourdon´s technique)

Developed in the early 1960s by Larry Constantine and Ed Yourdon, DFDs can be seen as methods of organizing data from their raw state [13]. It aims to show how information flows from one place to another, as well as their relationship with users and outer. They can be used to record process reviews as part of project documentation [20]

Diagram

Event-Driven Process Chain (EPC)

Informal notation for the representation of business processes and concepts to the detriment of the formal aspects of their technical realization [13]. It is part of a holistic modeling approach called the Architecture of Integrated Information Systems (ARIS) framework [20] developed by August-Wilhelm Scheer [5], [6].

Business Process Modeling - event driven process chain

FlowChart

Because it is made up of a few symbol patterns, it is easily understood. Also, its simplicity has made it a robust and effective tool, being one of the precursors of many other graphic languages and notations, being used for many years in process modeling. It uses a sequential flow of actions and does not support a division of activities. BPMN notation can be considered as an advanced version of this technique [13].

sample flowchart

Gantt Chart

It lists a to-do list with a timescale and can be used for process representation, although its focus is on the ability to monitor the current situation, project schedule and resource allocation, eventually neglecting the modeling part [20], [13].

Integrated Definition for Function Modeling (IDEF)

They are sets of methods for integrated modeling, directed to the business area and companies. They are used according to different applications, being IDEF0, IDEF1, IDEF1X, IDEF2, IDEF3, IDEF4 and IDEF5 the most important parts of this family of methods [10].
However, for business process modeling, the most useful versions are IDEF0 and IDEF3 [20], [13].

Business Process Modeling - IDEF

Object-Oriented Methods (OO)

Method for analysis, design, and implementation from the object-oriented technique, there are many different OO-based techniques [21]. UML is considered the default OO modeling language [13]

Petri Nets

Petri nets are one of the best-known techniques for specifying formal and abstract business processes, as such, provide an important basis for process languages. “Formal” means that the semantics of the process instances resulting from the models specified in Petri nets are well defined, unambiguous and “abstract”, because they do not take into account the execution environment of a business process, so that all aspects beyond functional and process perspectives are not covered [5], [6], [13].

Business Process Modeling - Petri Nets

Role-Activity Diagrams (RAD)

An abstract notation to describe desired behavior within an organization. They are often organizational functions and may include software systems, customers and suppliers [22]. They provide a different perspective on the process and are particularly useful in supporting communication [13].

Role-Interaction Diagrams (RID)

Although slightly more complex than a flowchart, RIDs are quite intuitive to understand, easy to read, but tend to be confusing and difficult to build [13].

UML Activity Diagram

UML is a modeling language used primarily for software system specification, visualization, development and documentation [7]. It has also become a powerful business process modeling technique. With 14 different types, it offers a flexible and powerful way to view almost every business process [19], [10].

Business Process Modeling - UML activiy diagram

Workflow Diagram

Workflow diagrams is an approach to improving traditional Petri nets with concepts and notations that make it easier to represent business processes by introducing structural constraints that prove useful for business processes [5], [6].

Business Process Modeling - Workflow diagram

It is more than a technique for modeling a process. It is a methodology for analyzing and improving a process, including its modeling. It comprises four steps: information gathering, modeling of business processes, workflow modeling and implementation, verification and enforcement [13].

References

[1] A. Sharp and P. Mcdermott, Workflow Modeling: Tools for Process Improvement and Applications Development 2nd Edition, vol. 104, no. 25. 2009.
[2] P. Harmon, Business Process Change: A Guide for Business Managers and BPM and Six Sigma Professionals 2nd Edition. 2007
[3] M. Laguna and J. Marklund, Business Process Modeling, Simulation, And Design 2nd Edition. 2013.
[4] M. Hewing, Business Process Blueprinting: A Method for Customer-Oriented Business Process Modeling. 2014.
[5] M. Weske, Business Process Management: Concepts, Languages, Architectures 2nd Edition. 2012
[6] M. Weske, Business Process Management: Concepts, Languages, Architectures. 2007
[7] P. Desfray and G. Raymon, Modeling Enterprise Architecture with TOGAF: A Practical Guide Using UML and BPMN. 2014.
[8] V. Stiehl, R. Raw, and P. Smith, Process-Driven Applications with BPMN. 2014
[9] A. Iyengar, V. Jessani, and M. Chilanti, WebSphere Business Integration Primer: Process Server, BPEL, SCA, and SOA. 2008.
[10] D. Minoli, Enterprise Architecture A to Z: Frameworks, Business Process Modeling, SOA, and Infrastructure Technology. 2008.
[11] Y. Chen-Burger and D. Robertson, Automating Business Modelling: A Guide to Using Logic to Represent Informal Methods and Support Reasoning. 2005.
[7] M. Juric and K. Pant, Business Process Driven SOA Using BPMN and BPEL: From Business Process Modeling to Orchestration and Service Oriented Architecture. 2008
[12] S. White and D. Miers, BPMN Modeling and Reference Guide: Understanding and Using BPMN. 2008
[13] Creately, “Business Process Modeling Techniques with Examples,” 2014. [Online]. Available: http://creately.com/blog/diagrams/business-process-modeling-techniques/#uml
[14] R. Shapiro et al., BPMN 2.0 Handbook Second Edition: Methods, Concepts, Case Studies and Standards in Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN). 2012.
[15] Object Management Group (OMG), “Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) Version 2.0,” Business, vol. 50, no. January, p. 170, 2011.
[16] O. M. G. D. Number and P. D. F. A. File, “BPMN 2.0 by Example,” vol. 0, no. June 2010.
[17] E. Herrera, The BPMN Graphic Handbook. 2015.
[18] Kurt Jensen and L. M. Kristensen, Coloured Petri Nets: Modelling and Validation of Concurrent Systems. 2009.
[19] F. Schönthaler, G. Vossen, A. Oberweis, and T. Karle, Business Processes for Business Communities: Modeling Languages, Methods, Tools. 2012.
[20] M. Von Rosing, H. Von Scheel, and A. W. Scheer, The Complete Business Process Handbook: Body of Knowledge from Process Modeling to BPM, vol. 1. 2014.
[21] “Object-oriented methodologies,” 2012. [Online]. Available: https://www.slideshare.net/nainarani/object-oriented-methodologies
[22] W. Zhao, A. Wang, and X. Fang, “Role-Activity Diagrams Modeling Based on Workflow Mining,”

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