A couple of articles ago we’ve explained to you what business process modeling is – and why is it important to model your processes – now we’re here to tell you there’s more than one way to model business processes.
Don’t freak out just yet – even though you might believe that having different approaches to process modeling can complicate things, it’s actually quite the opposite. Let me begin by explaining why there’s more than one way to do this.
For starters, even though most of these techniques adopt the conventional process representation (a series of activities/steps), each of them is focused on a different aspect of these business processes and their structures, such as products, people involved, organizational structure, etc.
Seeing that each them focuses on a different aspect, they’re each best suited for different kinds of processes.
Knowing that there are different approaches you can adopt will give you a wide variety of information about business process modeling and, even though you’ve already decided which approach you’ll follow, it can help you by offering complementary points of view.
4 Techniques for modeling business processes
Transformational Process Modeling
The Transformational approach (aka IPO or Input-Process-Output) is the most traditionally mentioned approach to mapping business processes, as mentioned by Pipefy’s CEO Alessio Alionço on our free ebook “The Ultimate Guide to Organize your Business”:
According to this approach, each process is divided into steps/activities (that can be divided again into sub-activities, if necessary) and each of them has inputs that are transformed into outputs, creating a logic work sequence.
This model is, therefore, defined by a series of input-output relations that ultimately lead to the final process. Some of the most well-known transformational languages are BPMN, Data Flow Diagrams, etc.
Other than just being a marketing/sales technique, storytelling can be used to model business processes. Opposed to the most technical languages, storytelling allows people to model processes using natural everyday language.
The importance of storytelling as a mean of communicating and teaching processes informally has been established for a while now. It’s a simplified language you’d use to explain how your work process works over a mid-afternoon coffee.
In storytelling as in other modeling languages, you can choose to combine text with visual representations to create a richer, easier to understand context.
Creating a story, a flow of information or even a first person narrative is essentially important in showing that it’s possible to make process models simpler, more entertaining and, most of all, easier to understand. When narrating your process as a story you may (or may not) choose to follow the traditional sequence of actions processes are normally modeled according to.
As a writer myself, I can safely say that turning business processes into stories is way, way more fun than just creating a diagram. Start by providing a detailed introduction to create context and present the main theme (the actual process, in this case), narrating each of the events until the finale.
The end of the story becomes a lot more relatable if it comes with a lesson, a morale or a “what we learned from this experience” part.
Don’t make the mistake of believing your process is way too complex to be turned into a story. Give yourself creative liberty and explore different writing styles to structure the process as it actually happens. Feel free to add layers to your story, explaining tasks and subprocesses as stories inside the main story.
What you must take from this model is that all stories, even fictional ones, are able to convey true meaning much more effectively because they provide a rich, detailed description of a concrete context. Always remember that your audience must be able to correlate the ‘story’ to the reality, the actual process.
Avoid using overly abstract situations or else you may be in over your head. Create fictional generic characters to represent the real people involved with this process and go from there.
Hierarchical Process Models
These models propose a different approach: instead of creating a complete linear process representation you break it down into work breakdown structures or process trees (thinking of it as a tree makes it a lot easier to visualize).
The tree, with its branches, is the process’ general structure. It’s complemented by an amount of tasks that complement each other, proposing a logical sequence of facts. Instead of detailing all the steps of each activity and specifying how they should be coordinated, the hierarchical models state what should be done and stops there.
Using complementary task modeling languages may help give more structure and definition to your process tree by defining and correlating tasks, subtasks and their decomposition.
Role-Oriented Process Models
This specific technique for modeling business processes is based on establishing roles (aka who’s responsible for what) and grouping all the activities performed by a certain role inside boxes or divided into lanes.
This model allows you to clearly determine and establish accountability for an activity or group of activities – knowing who’s responsible for doing what makes it a lot easier to keep track of each person’s responsibilities.
The role-oriented approach can be quite limited when it comes to establishing and modifying the distribution of work in your organization. Its focus remains mainly on administrative procedures that demand clear definition of formal roles.
Roles can also be used to define teams, organizational levels or whatever other grouping you judge to be ideal to your needs.
We used this post to exemplify that there are many different approaches you can use when modeling your business processes (we’ve only just given a few examples, there are many other techniques out there).
Each of these models ir more appropriate to specific types of processes as well as people involved in modeling them. You can see from my example, being a writer I’m clearly biased towards storytelling since creating relatable stories comes a lot more naturally than drawing diagrams to me.
Choosing a standard approach to modeling all your company’s processes would probably be the smartest decision at a first glance. I like to think that each organization is unique and, because of that you should experiment different models, find out which one better suits your needs and if none of them does, create your own modeling technique.