Stop using BPMN

Author:
Walter Tran
Chief Operating Officer
Holocentric

LinkedIn Profile

Stop using BPMN for human consumption. Full stop. It’s only OK for robots!

There are 3 cohorts of users when it comes to BPMN:

1. Systems that have been programmed to digest and understand BPMN

2. BPMN experts who have put together the diagrams in the first place

3. The rest of the population who needs to consume them 


I’m not exactly sure what it is about the combination of boxes and diamonds (and their intricate symbols) that does it, but many people glaze over trying to interpret a BPMN diagram.  

If you don’t know what BPMN is, you’ve probably seen something inspired by it before. Anything depicting a process with rectangles (activities), diamonds (gateway/decision points) and circles (events) probably has some influence from BPMN. It has evolved over the years and many systems use BPMN 2.0 as the default standard to share process information with each other. In recent times, it has become a point of conversation again as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Process Mining have become popular as a way to make processes even more efficient. 

It’s a standard, and a very good one at that, but its major flaw is that the masses (people within organisations) don’t understand it intuitively. Since robots can’t understand exactly what we write down, we use specific symbols to tell them what we mean. For engineers, specifying an AND or OR gate is absolutely required and allows us to explain things logically. To ‘normal’ people in the workplace, a diamond with a circle or plus sign in it might as well just be hieroglyphics. 

In some industries, we depict very important information in process maps so people can understand and follow them. This is to help keep them safe or to ensure the organisation stays compliant with its industry regulation. The risk of not understanding some of these processes can have dire consequences. So why do we continue to attempt to communicate this in BPMN? Because it’s the standard for process data exchange for systems. But who said it should be the standard for humans? 

Our workplaces currently span multiple generations, and this really highlights the differences in communication we may need to cater for within our organisations. Processes are no different. It’s not a one size fits all.  

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