What is business process modelling and how can it improve your company’s systems?

19 May 2021

It's rare for a business to remain at peak levels of efficiency. When time is of the essence, even the smallest of errors can prove costly.

To ensure they're as effective as possible, a business would have to constantly be re-evaluating and re-working its processes. And although this might sound like an impossible task, it's where Business Process Modelling (BPM) comes in handy.

Designed to drive efficiency and improve workflows, BPM can help leaders and teams understand and optimise an organisation's various activities – aiding communication and sharing knowledge as a result.

To get you started with BPM, we'll look at its definition in more detail, as well as how it can help to improve the systems and processes your organisation uses daily.

What is business process modelling?

Business process modelling might sound like a new innovation, but it's been around longer than you might think. Its roots date back to the late 1700s when manufacturing first made its way from cottage industry into factories.

Of course, things have become more manageable since then, but it's the previous versions' best principles that have survived. Essentially, BPM aims to create graphical representations (such as flow charts or data-flow diagrams) of a company's procedures, processes and workflows. These are then used to help identify what's standing in the way of future successes.

By creating an accessible, shareable record of an organisation's functions, it lets individuals and teams define, maintain and replicate best practice across a business. And when it's done right, BPM emphasises visibility, efficiency and collaboration, allowing everyone in a company to identify areas that need improving.

What is business process modelling

How can business process modelling improve your company's systems?

As well as gaining a deeper understanding of how your processes work, and the way your business functions, BPM can improve your systems in the following ways...

It documents best practice

A good process model should give a clear, precise indication of your required business functions. But to be as useful as possible, it needs to capture these functions and their dependencies in full detail. By doing so, it shows best practice in a way that new employees can understand and regulators of good governance will be happy with.

It visualises complex processes through BPMN

The strongest BPM solutions use graphical notation (also known as BPMN) to create their process diagrams. These diagrams can then be stored and updated dynamically on a company's document management system.

Through key stakeholder management and approval, process models can reduce the risk of miscommunication, misinterpretations and delays. Aided by business management systems, it's possible to ensure that changes and updates to these models are handled in the most orderly way. This means that mistakes can be captured and corrected in real time.

Your company's document management system comes in handy here too. Contributors can add their content to a system that displays clear workflows. Every object within this workflow should be linked to the documentation supporting the process it describes. In doing so, contributors should make sure ownership is clear, reviews are structured and easy to follow, and approvals are explicit and lead into the next actions.

And whenever employees encounter uncertainty, they can reference these models with confidence, avoiding time-intensive or costly errors.

It fosters compliance throughout the company

When a company is used to mapping out processes using BPM, transparency becomes commonplace. As a result, regulatory compliance is easier to achieve too.

Business process modelling in action

Let's take a look at a few examples.

    • ISO9001 lays out quality management principles in the following: "understanding activities as processes that link together and function as a system" and "an ongoing focus on improvement". Both of these can become part of your company's working practices with a BPM tool.
    • ISO9001:2015 requires proof of your organisation's Risk-Based Thinking. This can be shown in your approach to BPM; by providing employees with clear pathways to retrieve definitive documentation about the procedure, you can keep misunderstandings to a minimum.
    • ISO13485 is concerned with strong organisation, governance and audit trails. Through BPM, you can define, maintain and monitor your company's Quality Assurance goals in a way that complies with this certification.

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It enables continuous improvement

Maintaining continuous improvement lets a business streamline its processes, improving efficiency and eliminating waste as a result.

Using BPM, it's possible to identify the strengths and weaknesses within both procedures and entire business models. And when you can identify weak points and re-align them to the business' goals, you're in a position to constantly improve.

It creates a competitive advantage

By altering how processes work, BPM can empower a workforce to change their business for the better. Through this, decision-making is easier, waste and errors are reduced, and smoother methods can be identified and implemented.

In highly competitive sectors where complex development challenges are common, the benefits of BPM, and its focus on streamlined business functions, can add up to a competitive advantage over rivals.

essential business process modelling

Business Process Modelling techniques

There's a whole host of different ways that BPM can be implemented. Here are some of the more common examples:

Business Process Modelling Notation (BPMN)

Popular among process analysts and those who create business modelling tools; BPMN uses lines, arrows and geometric shapes to communicate the specific flow of a given process. Anyone familiar with BPMN can look at a model and know exactly how it should function.

Universal Process Notation (UPN)

Since BPMN involves learning a new language, it may not be the most intuitive option. Here's where Universal Process Notation can help.

UPN provides a simple box for each task to be completed. The box shows what happens, who is assigned to it, and when it happens in the sequence. Using UPN, your IT team can design and analyse processes, management can comply with business norms and, crucially, end business users can understand processes as they've been intended.

Flowchart technique

Looking to explain complex process flows in a simple, succinct way? Flowcharts illustrate process steps in their sequential order – starting with inputs, detailing the actual process and ending with the outputs. This technique also helps provide the basic framework for BPMN to display advanced process flows.

Gantt Charts

Instead of sequential steps, Gantt is a bar chart that provides a visual overview of tasks scheduled over time. Used to plan projects of all sizes, it's a handy way of showing what work is scheduled to be done and when. It can even be used to see when a project should start and end in a simple, uncluttered way.

Business process management team

Petri-Nets

A modelling technique that's also used in mathematics, petri-nets are a helpful BPM approach, classifying or colour-coding complex workflow steps, users and routes in different colours.

Because of their mathematical basis, they tend to be used rarely in practical BPM modelling, apart from in very specific and complex analytical tasks.

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