February 9, 2016

What Is BPMN? Understanding Business Process Model Notation

Diagrams for Businesses
Project Management
Business Process Model Notation (BPMN)
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What is Business Process Modeling Notation?

Business process modeling notation, or BPMN, is the language and diagramming standard used to create flowcharts of business processes and workflows. It’s an important element and standardized tool of business process management, also known as BPM. 

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What is a BPMN Flowchart?

A BPMN flowchart is the visual representation of a process or workflow. By following the rules outlined by BPMN, you can create consistent, easy-to-understand flowcharts that include all the detail your team needs.

With BPMN flowcharts, business leaders and analysts can map out the flow of transactions and procedures in order to better locate potential bottlenecks or inefficiencies or to introduce new processes to their employees. The notation system follows a set standard so that everyone using BPMN can understand it easily  — that's why it's one of the most common advanced types of flowcharts in use today.

Example of a BPMN flowchart
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History of BPMN

BPMN 1.0

Development of this notation standard started in the year 2000 when a group of e-businesses came together around a common problem: business processes had grown increasingly complex and documenting them had become more and more of a challenge. Thus, the Business Process Management Initiative came into being. Their resulting standard, BPMN 1.0, was published in 2004. It solved a common problem across many industries and quickly outgrew its humble beginnings, becoming the full-fledged system that's in use around the globe today.

BPMN 2.0

The original creators of BPMN 1.0 merged with the Object Management Group (OMG) in 2005. OMG has continuously worked to refine the standard and released BPMN 2.0 in 2011. They also changed the name to business process modeling and notation, but continue to use the BPMN acronym.

The Original BPMN vs. BPMN 2.0

In January of 2011, BPMN 2.0 received approval for release with the latest specifications of the BPMN standard. Its improvements included:

  • A single standard of models and diagrams that remain consistent no matter which software tool you use.
  • Features that line up BPMN with the business-process definition model (BPDM).
  • Options allowing you to show different perspectives on a single model.
  • Program openings to incorporate choreography and orchestrations, either integrated or stand-alone.
  • Abilities to build XML systems that transform models, helping provide decision-support data for managers and analysts.
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Use Cases for Business Process Modeling Notation

Today, a wide range of well-known organizations rely on BPMN, including the Federal Ministry of Finance, T-Systems Multimedia Solutions, Energie Südbayern and 1&1 Internet Inc. BPMN maps out processes to help meet a number of strategic goals. Here are a few real-world examples:

  • Accenture used BMPN to improve the targeted delivery of their key services.
  • Areva used it to get a better labor-to-revenue ratio.
  • CFDT wanted a view of their membership in real time.
  • Conseil Général de Vendée had a goal to make their regional-government services more accessible to local communities.
  • Old Dominion University wanted to make account requests smoother and more automated, freeing up staff from old-fashioned manual methods.
  • Imbrera Services employed BPMN to optimize their Coca-Cola distribution network.
  • Mobistar used BPMN to rework and revise their IT operations.
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Common BPMN Symbols and Taxonomy

BPMN uses basic symbols and terminology to map out simple and complex processes alike. First, you create a pool to hold all of the information. For more details explanations, see our blog post, How to Read Business Process Model and Notation Diagrams.

Swimlanes and Pools

This is the "big picture" that allows you to outline the participants in a process. For example, for a Human Resources department, participants might include HR, facilities, hiring manager, payroll and the employee. Each participant gets their own swim lane or row on the chart. This concept is used outside the standard with more general swimlane diagrams.


Represented by circles that can be placed anywhere, events show when an event takes place, rather than when you perform an activity.

Business Process Model Notation Events


These are simply the things you do within the process, represented by rectangles with rounded corners. You can also have an activity with a plus sign, which means it is a sub-process with additional tasks below the main process.

Business Process Model Notation Activity


Represented by diamond symbols, gateways track the flow of information. They are similar to a railroad switch that moves trains from one track to another depending on the destination. You define the criteria that directs information in certain directions.

Business Process Model Notation Gateways


These notations help readers understand what they are reading on the map. Dotted lines represent artifacts, and solid lines represent the flow of information. Artifacts just provide information and background; they don't affect the process itself.

Business Process Model Notation Connectors

Data Artifacts

Represented by arrows, your data sources can include documents, invoices, spreadsheets, forms and all kinds of business information.

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Try Gliffy's BPMN Tool

Business Process Model Notation Artifacts

As you can see, organizations use this structure at every level to improve procedures and processes. As one of the leading diagramming tools for Confluence, Gliffy makes it easy to build any kind of process modeling system, from the most elementary layouts to complex and sophisticated models.

 Try in Confluence

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