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Quick tip before you get started: BPMN diagrams have lots of specific symbols. You might also find yourself wanting to change the structure of your diagram as you work your way through the details. You can draw a BPMN diagram anywhere, but using a BPMN diagramming tool like Gliffy Online will save you time and keep your pencil’s eraser intact. You can start a free trial before working your way through this how-to, if you’d like!
Regardless of what type of diagram you’re making, it’s important to understand who the diagram is for and how the diagram will be used. This will help you strike the balance of including enough detail to be thorough and helpful, without overwhelming your viewer.
A common mistake with BPMN diagramming is cramming multiple processes into one diagram. For example, you may be asked to document the process of how a brand adds a post to a social media account, like Instagram. The same post could also be shared on Facebook and have a very similar process. Should you include both, or stick to showing how a post gets shared on Instagram? Based upon your audience and how this diagram will be used, you should make a decision now (and save yourself the re-work later).
After defining the scope of your diagram, ask yourself who participates in the process. Pools are the broader section of your diagram and are typically departments or even whole companies that carry out a process. Swimlanes divide those pools into more specific teams or roles that complete tasks to keep the process moving.
Every BPMN diagram includes start and end event icons. These are simple, unfilled circles. If the diagram you’re drawing has multiple pools, you’d need a start and end icon in each one to show more specifically where the process is initiated in each organization. These event icons can simply be labeled “start” or they can have a more specific title like “request received.”
Activities are the tasks that take place throughout the process. Ask yourself what people do to get from start to finish and add each of those steps to their respective swimlane, in order from left to right. If you’re using an online diagramming or BPMN tool, it might be helpful to start drawing arrows between these steps.
Anywhere the process splits or could take multiple paths, you need to add a gateway. As a quick way to check your work while adding gateways, there should never be multiple arrows coming from one activity.
There are also events that take place in the process, like a message being sent or a certain amount of time passing. As you look at the activities you’ve added, look for places where these events should be inserted to better describe the process. For example, between steps like an employee submitting an invoice and a manager approving that invoice, there’s an event in which the invoice is sent.
As you’ve added activities, gateways, and events, you may have started drawing in some arrows. Make sure you’ve completed the entire process by drawing in any remaining connectors and finishing with an end event icon.
Don’t skip this one and grab a coworker or friend for help! Walk through the process with them as you’ve drawn it. Is it clear to them? Do they have any questions or suggestions? Where should you add more detail?Based upon their recommendations, you may need to make some tweaks. Add artifacts like annotations or groups to help clarify. By having someone else check your work, you’re making sure that your diagram has the right amount of detail and enough clarity to be useful.
If you’ve used an online diagramming tool like Gliffy, save and download your final diagram. As people ask questions or as your business changes, you can revisit this diagram to edit the flow.
Gliffy is one of the most popular tools for drawing BPMN diagrams, flowcharts, and other diagrams for business processes. Get started with a free trial to follow along with this tutorial.
This pre-loads the BPMN diagram symbols and shapes you’ll need to use. You can scroll through these shapes in the far left panel of the diagramming window.
The Swimlanes library has default sizes of pools and pools with 2, 3, and 4 swimlanes. Drag and drop the shape you’ll need, then click on the existing text to edit and rename each lane. You can also change the size of the swimlanes by clicking on the container and selecting the gear icon to add rows.
Open the layer panel by clicking on the layers icon next to the artist’s palette icon in the toolbar along the top of the diagramming tool. Double-click “Layer Zero” to rename it to something more specific, like “Swimlanes” or “Diagram Base”. Lock this layer by hovering over it and clicking on the padlock icon.Then, click the plus icon to add another layer. This is where you’ll add everything else. You can rename this to something easy to remember like “Process” or “Flow.” You can click the layers icon once more to close the layer panel and get back to your diagram.
Following the steps above, add the BPMN symbols that represent your process. Gliffy makes this as easy as possible: simply find the shape you need in the left panel (hover over shapes to see their names), drag and drop it into your diagram, and simply type to give it a label or title. You can also search for a shape by its name using the Search Shapes bar in the upper left.
Making a Diagram in Gliffy Online means it’s easy for your peers to review and give you feedback. Save your diagram by clicking the button in the upper right. If you’re using a paid Gliffy account, learn how to share your diagram and ask for feedback.
Last, clean up your diagram by making sure that everything is clearly aligned, the swimlanes are the right size, and that it’s easy to follow the flow of information. You can turn on Drawing Guides and Snap to Grid in the toolbar along the top of the screen, just to the left of the artist’s palette themes icon. Add color to any shape by clicking on it, opening shape properties by clicking on the square, and then changing the stroke or fill colors.
Now that you've read our BPMN tutorial and know how to draw a BPMN diagram, build one in a snap with Gliffy’s easy-to-use diagramming tool.
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Not ready to get started? Read more on our blog post, What is BPMN? or visit our Guide to BPMN Symbols.