20 May 2016

Lesson 1: Introduction to BPMN

BPMN (Business Process Modeling Notation) is a modern standard for business process modeling, developed by BPMI Notation Working Group in May 2004. Version 2.0 of BPMN was released in 2010. The original specification in English was written by the Object Management Group.

BPMN is aimed at:

  • Technical experts responsible for process implementation;
  • Business analysts who create and improve the processes;
  • Managers who monitor and control the processes.

In this way, BPMN works as a link between business processes and their implementation.

BPMN uses simple graphical notations to visualize business processes as diagrams. These graphical elements are intuitive to users and allow them to build complex semantic structures. Business users find it very convenient to work with processes represented as diagrams, and many analysts use BPMN for that matter.

All the process models designed with BPMN are executable and not just described on paper, meaning that they can be run in any BPM system.  Computer programs convert diagrams into actual executable processes run in real time.

This Practical Course of Modeling and Reading Business Processes in BPMN is a set of lessons with practical examples, which will teach you how to work with the popular BPMN standard. To provide the examples for the course, we used ELMA Business Process Management software.

This unique course presents the core concept of working with business processes described in BPMN. This is the first lesson of the course, we have tried to make it simple, easy-to-understand and, above all, useful!

Lesson 1

In BPMN, the processes are described by means of diagrams with a series of graphic elements. Such visualization makes it easy for the users to understand the logic of a process.

BPMN has been primarily developed to design and read both simple and complex diagrams of business processes. For that, the BPMN standard classifies the graphic elements by categories: as a result, the elements are easily recognized by the users who work with business process diagrams.

Any process described with BPMN is represented as a number of steps (activities) that are performed consequently or at the same time according to certain business rules.

Take a look at the “Order processing” process which can be used in an on-line store that sells and rents bicycles.

Business process diagram

Fig.1 “Order Processing” process

You should always read a process from the Start Event.

start event

Fig.1.1 Start Event

As you can see from its name, a Start Event identifies the starting point of a process; it can only have outgoing sequence flow. In BPMN, a Start Event is represented by a circle with an open center with a thin lined boundary.

In our example, the Start Event could be a phone call or a message from a client left on the store’s website.

From the Start Event, the process follows the sequence flow until it reaches the End Event; a process can have several End Events.

End event

Fig.1.2 End Event

An End Event specifies where a path within a process finishes; it can only have incoming sequence flow.

An End Event is represented by a circle with a thick line boundary.

In our example, the End Event is the delivery of the merchandise to the customer.

Please note, that in ELMA, the Start Event and the End Event are also distinguished by color, that is why here they are shown as a green and a red circle respectively.

The workflow is visualized by various elements placed between the Start Event and the End Event. The core elements representing the work performed during the process are called Activities. Activities are executable elements of BPMN, and can be either atomic or non-atomic (compound).

The atomic type of Activity is known as a Task. Graphically it is shown as a rounded rectangle. The most common Task represents the work done by a user, that is why it is often called a User Task.

In our example, the Task Activities are: “Process customer request”, “Fill in purchase form” and “Fill in rental form”.

User task

Fig.1.3 User Task

Another widely used element of BPMN is a Gateway. Graphically it is shown as a diamond shape, and is used to determine decisions and evaluate conditions. Basically, a Gateway is a branching point that controls the process flow by splitting and merging it.


Fig.1.4. Gateway

In our example, a client might want either to buy or to rent a bicycle, and according to that decision, the order is processed as a purchase or a rental one. In the process diagram, a Gateway is the decision point that specifies which way the sequence flow must go in each case.


In our next lessons, we will learn about other BPMN 2.0 graphical elements and their use in practice. When you are familiar with the basic process elements of BPMN, you can read and understand even the most complex process diagrams.

We will also provide additional self-study assignments (where you will be able to check the correct answers and compare them to your own). These assignments will help you analyze and model simple business processes using BPMN.

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Valeria Evgeneva
Marketing and Localization Specialist