January 19, 2024

What Is BPMN? Understanding Business Process Model Notation

Diagrams for Businesses
Project Management
Business Process Model Notation (BPMN)
Back to top

What is Business Process Modeling Notation?

Business Process Modeling Notation, or BPMN, is the language and diagramming standard used to visualize business processes and workflows from beginning to end.

It’s an important element and standardized tool of business process management, also known as BPM, which is the general practice of developing, analyzing, optimizing, and automating business processes.

Back to top

What is BPMN Used For?

BPMN is used to create diagrams that visually represent a process or workflow from beginning to end. By following the rules outlined by BPMN, you can create consistent, easy-to-understand process documentation that includes all the detail your team needs to manage work effectively and communicate with stakeholders.

With process flows illustrated by BPMN, business leaders and analysts can map out the flow of transactions and procedures in order to:

  • Identify potential bottlenecks or inefficiencies during process analysis
  • Plan out new or improved processes
  • Introduce new processes to employees

The notation system follows a set standard, so everyone using BPMN can understand it easily — that’s why it’s one of the most common and valuable diagram types for business leaders today. When everyone is speaking the same “language,” it’s easier to communicate and adapt in a quickly changing business environment.

Back to top

What's the Difference Between a Flowchart and a BPMN Diagram?

A BPMN diagram is technically a type of flowchart. However, a generic flowchart has a limited set of symbols, and there’s little to no consistency in the specific symbols someone might use to illustrate concepts beyond that limited set. 

BPMN is a more specific method of notation that offers a wider range of symbols and elements, making a BPMN diagram more consistent than a flowchart across all use cases and audiences.

Example of a BPMN flowchart
Back to top

History of BPMN

BPMN 1.0

Development of the BPMN standard began in 2000, when a group of businesses came together to solve a common problem: business processes had grown increasingly complex, and documenting them efficiently had become more of a challenge.

They created the Business Process Management Initiative, and its resulting standard, BPMN 1.0, was published in 2004. BPMN solved the problem of ineffective process documentation and quickly gained popularity across industries.

BPMN 2.0

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

The Original BPMN vs. BPMN 2.0

BPMN 2.0 saw several differences from its original version. Its improvements included:

  • A single standard of models and diagrams that remain consistent across software tools
  • Features that align BPMN with the business-process definition model (BPDM) 
  • Options for showing different perspectives on a single model
  • Program openings to incorporate choreography and orchestrations
  • Capability to build XML systems that transform models, providing decision-support data for managers and analysts

Other Updates

Since the introduction of BPMN 2.0, a complementary decision flow visualization method — the Decision Model and Notation standard — was established to fill BPMN’s gap in decision-making process modeling.

Back to top

Types of BPMN Diagrams

BPMN 2.0 includes several subcategories of business process diagrams that are more specific to certain types of processes. 

Collaboration Diagrams

Collaboration diagrams illustrate interactions between two or more processes in different pools or swimlanes, focusing on the tasks performed in each pool and the messages sent between them. 

Conversation Diagrams

Conversation diagrams are similar to collaboration diagrams, but they offer a more simplified version of interactions, focusing on related message exchanges.

Choreography Diagrams

Choreography diagrams show the interactions, including tasks and sequences, between two or more participants in a process. 

Back to top

Common BPMN Symbols and Taxonomy

BPMN uses standardized symbols and terminology to map out simple and complex processes alike. Here is a quick overview of the most important ones you’ll need to know to create your own BPMN diagrams.

To learn more about how to use these symbols together to visualize processes, check out our BPMN diagram tutorial

Swimlanes and Pools

Swimlanes and pools provide the structure for outlining the participants in a process. For example, in a Human Resources process, participants may include hiring managers, payroll, and employees. Each participant would receive their own swimlane or row on the chart. This concept is used outside of BPMN as well, in the form of more general swimlane diagrams.


Represented by circles that can be placed anywhere on the diagram, events represent the triggers that start, modify, or complete a process. The inside of the circle changes based on the type of event that is being represented.

Business Process Model Notation Events


Activities are tasks performed throughout the process by a person or system and are represented by rectangles with rounded corners. An activity with a plus sign indicates that there are sub-processes with additional tasks below the main process.

Business Process Model Notation Activity


Gateways track the flow of information throughout the process. 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 the information.

Business Process Model Notation Gateways


Connectors help readers understand the flow of events and associations between events and are represented by different types of arrows. 

Business Process Model Notation Connectors

Data Artifacts

Artifacts are annotations or additional data that provide necessary context to the diagram. This can include data necessary to the process, groupings of activities, or further explanations.

Business Process Model Notation Artifacts
Back to top

How to Use Business Process Modeling Notation

Want to enhance your own process documentation by incorporating business process diagrams? Try Gliffy, the diagramming tool built for Confluence that allows you to diagram right alongside your documentation with no extra windows or logins.


Back to top