BPMN is a complex notation. Let’s for example consider the 48 different events and their properties (type, throwing vs. non-interrupting vs. catching).
How, you might think, am I going to engage business users, using a notation even seasoned experts cannot understand in full detail?
The answer is simple: not every BPMN user needs to understand the minute details of– it’s sufficient when everybody knows enough about BPMN to be able to communicate on the level of abstraction that suits them best. In this way, BPMN is comparable to English, which has established itself as the current lingua franca and is often spoken by non-native speakers who need to agree on a common language not every participant knows well, but all can communicate in.
When finding such a common denominator in BPMN, the challenge lies in employing the right level of abstraction on the different levels of your business process landscape. Employing dedicated BPMN subsets for each level of abstraction helps you to prevent unnecessary complexity and to embrace different modeling styles that support the corresponding business scenarios best.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s subdivide the process landscape into four levels that represent the most important abstraction layers and have a brief look at the modeling elements that fit well to each level.
The levels we introduced don’t need to exactly match the levels in your process hierarchy – they are simply suggestions. You can, for example, spread business details over multiple levels.
BPMN subsets are groups of BPMN element you can assemble for a specific purpose. For example, you can create a subset for all elements your modelers should use when creating end-to-end processes.
In the Signavio Process Editor, you can configure your own BPMN subsets with a couple of mouse clicks.
Create a subset for each abstraction layer you have in your business process landscape. You can deactivate (default) sets that your modelers should not use.
When modeling diagrams, you can select the subset that fits your modeling purpose best.
With element subsets and abstraction layers in mind, you can start to optimize your process landscape to communicate clearly and effectively with different stakeholder groups.
Using BPMN subsets is just one step on the road to better communication. BPMN is in this respect just like a natural language, with style and tone. You can manage your modeling style and the way you use the notation in the same way you do when writing emails and communicating with different stakeholders. People tend to do this naturally by changing vocabulary depending on whether the recipient is a casual friend, or a senior executive requiring a more formal approach. When embracing this approach you will intuitively adjust your modeling approach according to the stakeholder groups you want to engage with a diagram.
In his book BPMN Method & Style, the renowned BPMN expert Bruce Silver introduces three levels of BPMN modeling:
Whereas Bruce doesn’t mention an overview/process landscape level – which you shouldn’t model in BPMN – the other three levels mostly match up with the levels we introduced above. Microsoft’s Nick Malik employs an abstraction approach that’s inspired by Martin Fowler’s abstraction levels for software development. Have a look at their writings and decide which approach suits you best – and don’t hesitate to adjust any of the concepts to your organization’s individual needs.
For more information about BPMN modeling style, take a look at our.
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