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Should we use a method like BPMN to document our processes

By ITIL® from Experience©

Multiple methods exist in the world of Business Process Modelling. Business Process Modelling Notation (BPMN)1 is only one of them. There are many more like Value Stream Mapping or Unified Modelling Language (UML). Each method has its own terminology, format and symbols or iconography.

Some methods are more appropriate than others based on the product used to automate the process. For example, "Event-driven Process Chain (EPC) is a business process modelling technique, mainly used for analyzing processes for the purpose of an ERP implementation."2 However, if you do not have such a constraint, the best method is the one people can easily understand without the need to study it.

When an I.T. organization is new at documenting its processes, it is popular to send the project team to business process mapping training. Then the project starts to document and chart processes using this newly acquired knowledge. Unfortunately, a common mistake is to use the text-book method without considering the goal or the audience.

For example, if the goal is to automate an existing process, starting with a Level 1 design to seek agreement on the business concept, than doing a level 2 and level 3 design and getting approval for each may result in a disengaged audience; they already agree on the concept as the process is already in place. The method can also create a barrier to communication if it is assumed that people understand the symbols used. For example, people may simply nod their heads in approval when showed a diagram even if they do not understand its implications. Moreover, not everyone is skilled at reading diagrams. Thus, the more iconography used, the more difficult it is for people to comprehend the process it represents.

The basic Cross-Functional Flow-Chart3 is simple to use, and can be thought to people in 5 minutes. The cross-functional bands, often referred to as swim-lanes are very useful as they visually help people understand their work assignment. They can also be made to represent the Group/Queue or Service Department of the ITSM Tool to identify where tasks are to be assigned when developing a workflow.4 In addition, the swim-lanes provides most of the information to prepare a RACI matrix5 6.

Often, the cross-functional flow-chart method is sufficient for ITSM processes until a more sophisticated method is required (like BPMN) to enable the organization to move to the next level of maturity or automation. That being said, based on the automation technology used, two diagrams may be required: one for the business process and another to diagram the tool’s configuration. In other words, one is produced as a result of the business process analysis whiles the other from system analysis and design. Each has its purpose and audience.

Ultimately, the method to use depends on the objective. It must also be remembered that people may not want or need your level of sophistication. That being said, the method selected should not create a "make work" project to reformat everything and train everyone as it provides no business value. At the end of the day, the best method is the one that works and gets the job done in the most efficient and effective way: “The fastest way home is the one you know, not necessarily the best one.”

"Draw a flowchart for whatever you are doing. Until you do, you do not fully understand what you are doing. You just have a job." W Edwards Deming

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Implementation > Process


3. The cross-functional flow chart is based on the Deployment Flowchart developed by Edward M. Deming
4. Workflows automate process models like an assembly line so that tasks are assigned, based on business rules, to the next participant as they are completed.
5. RACI: (ITIL® Service Design) A model used to help define roles and responsibilities. RACI stands for responsible, accountable, consulted and informed. Source: ITIL® glossary and abbreviations. English, 2011 www.itil-officialsite.com/InternationalActivities/TranslatedGlossaries.aspx
6. A synonym for RACI is Authority Matrix. Source: ITIL® glossary and abbreviations. English, 2011 www.itil-officialsite.com/InternationalActivities/TranslatedGlossaries.aspx


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