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Requirements Gathering Part One: Introduction to Business Process Modeling

The project manager and project team will be required to examine existing processes when undertaking a process change, software development or new process implementation project. A fundamental element of all process examination is the definition of all activities, and the sequence of those activities, undertaken when executing the process.

Specifically, process mapping will enable the project team to

  • Display all tasks associated with a process;
  • Describe the flow of materials, information and documents;
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities within the process;
  • Indicate where decisions need to be made along the process chain;
  • Show inter-relationships between the various processes;
  • Enable effective measurement and documentation of quality standards; and
  • Provide common framework for documenting project
    objectives.

This article aims to provide an introduction to the principles of process mapping, together with a review of modeling standards currently in use.

According to Michael Havey, author of Essential Business Process Modeling,
“BPM is a set of technologies and standards for the design, execution, administration, and monitoring of business processes. A business process is the flow or progression of activities (the “boxes”)–each of which represents the work of a person, an internal system, or the process of a partner company–toward some business goal.”

Although there are numerous process modeling tools and methodologies, the standards put forth by
the Business Process Management Initiative, are perhaps the most widely accepted and used. The primary goal of this initiative, in developing the Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN), is to provide a notation that is readily understandable by all business users, from the business analysts that create the initial drafts of the processes, to the technical developers responsible for implementing the technology that will perform those processes, and finally, to the business people who will manage and monitor those processes. Thus, BPMN creates a standardized bridge for the gap between the business process design and process implementation. Business process modeling, using the BPMN standard, thus provides businesses with the capability of understanding internal business
procedures and provides a standardized means of communicating these procedures across the organization. For the project manager and project team, the BPM tools and method provides a means of understanding the existing business environment, and the tools to document scope for projects dealing with process, re-organization, and software development.

The BPMN method typically uses flowchart diagramming techniques and a graphical toolset that, while simple, supports the complexities inherent within business processes. The graphical elements used in business process modeling will be familiar to those who have previously worked with flowcharts. The standard outlines four core elements to be used for business process diagramming. These are:

  • Flow Objects
  • Connecting objects
  • Swim Lanes
  • Artifacts

Flow Objects

Flow objects are the main graphical elements to define the behavior of a Business Process. There are three types of flow objects: events, activities and gateways.

Type Description Notation
Events An event is an occurrence that happens during a business process. An event impacts the flow of the process, is usually preceded by a trigger and typically causes an impact. Business Process Modeling Event
Activities An activity is a work package, executed by the performing organization. Business Process Modeling Activity
Gateways A gateway is a flow control device, which signals a decision, change or convergence in path. Business Process Modeling Gateway

Connecting Objects

Connection objects serve to tie the varying components of the flow together. There are three types of connection objects: sequence, message and association.

Type Description Notation
Sequence A sequence flow is used to show the order (sequence) of activities. Business Process Modeling Sequence
Message A message flow is used to represent the flow of communication between process participants. Business Process Modeling Message
Association An association flow is used to associate data, text or other artifacts with flow objects. Business Process Modeling Message

Swim Lanes

Swim lanes are used to illustrate different functional capabilities or responsibilities. There are two types of swim lanes: pool and lane.

Type Description Notation
Pool A pool can represent either a participant in a process or a set of activities which is separate from another pool. Pools are used when the diagram involves two separate business entities or participants. Business Process Modeling Pool
Lane A lane is a partition within a pool and is used to organize or categorize activities. Business Process Modeling Lane

The activities within separate Pools are considered self-contained Processes. Thus, the Sequence Flow may not cross the boundary of a Pool. Message Flow is defined as being the mechanism to show the communication between two participants, and, thus, must connect between two
Pools (or the objects within the Pools).

Lanes are often used to separate the activities associated with a specific company function or role. Sequence Flow may cross the boundaries of Lanes within a Pool, but Message Flow may not be used between Flow Objects in Lanes of the same Pool.

Artifacts

Artifacts are used to provide additional information about the Process. There are three standardized Artifacts, but modelers can create their own types of Artifacts, which add more details about how the process is performed-quite often to show the inputs and outputs of activities in the Process. However, the basic structure of the process, as determined by the Activities, Gateways, and Sequence Flow, are not changed with the addition of Artifacts in the diagram.

Type Description Notation
Data Object Data Objects are a mechanism to show how data is required or produced by activities. They are connected to activities through Associations. Business Process Modeling Data Object
Group A Group is represented by a rounded corner rectangle drawn with a dashed line (see the figure to the right). The grouping can be used for documentation or analysis purposes, but does not affect the Sequence Flow. Business Process Modeling Group
Annotation Annotations are a mechanism for a modeler to provide additional text and information. Business Process Modeling Annotation

Gathering Information

The best way to map a process is to work directly with those involved in the process. Management usually does not have the detailed knowledge necessary to accurately map a process. In meeting directly with the staff involved in the process, the project manager and project team are also fostering an open project environment. Involving these users as stake holders will lessen the risk that they will reject the new system or process improvements.

Those gathering information for process mapping should observe the process in operation and speak with all staff involved. The process should be evaluated in sequence. Where multiple sequences overlap, or occur concurrently, it is essential to clarify all relevant inputs to each task. Specifically, the interviewer can ask:

  • What are the inputs to your task which are relevant to the process under consideration?
  • Where does your work come from? (e.g. an order)
  • What do you do with it? (e.g. initiate inventory check)
  • Where do you send your output? (e.g. shipping)
  • What form does that output take? (e.g. a physical
    good)

This output then becomes the input for the next step in the process map. The interviewer must also include key information such as:

  • Who does what
  • What is done when
  • What decisions are taken and when
  • What are the possible actions resulting from a particular decision

Start by constructing a simple business process model, then build upon that model with additional detail.

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1 Response

  1. Thanks for th good info!

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