The Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) standard is a rich, visual language for describing even the most complex business processes.

  • BPMN makes our understanding of a process explicit.
  • It’s easy for people to understand
  • It’s sufficiently rigorous to aid in the design of supporting information technologies.

Like any language, BPMN has a vocabulary.

  • Vocabulary elements are visualized using symbols.
  • The language has a syntax. That is, there are rules regarding how vocabulary elements can be combined.
  • Each vocabulary element has a precise meaning.

BPMN contains an expansive symbolic vocabulary.

The BPMN symbolic language

However, just four elements are enough to get started: activities, events, gateways, and sequence flows:

The basic BPMN symbols

  • Activities represent actions to be taken and tasks to be completed.
  • Events indicate the conditions that trigger and complete an instance of a process.
  • Gateways manage the splitting and merging of a process flow.
  • The sequence flow indicates how a process progresses from start to end.

For example, consider a recruitment process for an executive peer exchange. Here’s how the basic process might be described using  the basic BPMN elements:

A process model using basic BPMN symbols

  • The process starts when a prospect has been identified.
  • The background of the prospect is researched.
  • Next, a profile is created and added to a CRM database.
  • If the prospect fits the target profile, an invitation is sent, the prospect’s profile is updated, and the process ends.
  • Alternatively, if the prospect doesn’t fit the target profile, her profile is updated accordingly, and the process ends.

For Discussion

  • What start and end event(s) are associated with your business process?
  • What activities comprise the process, and in what order are they to be completed?
  • What contingencies might need to be reflected with a gateway?