Process modeling with BPMN – the three levels

in Business Analysis, Business Analysis, Business Process Management

BPMN differs from traditional process modeling notation in that :

  • Range of possible uses
  • The diversity of its users, including modellers and developers with different levels of technical expertise

Although BPMN is a vendor-neutral standard, intended for use with a variety of tools and applications, it does not prescribe any specific methodology. It does not even recommend best practices for the effective use of scoring for specific modeling purposes.

However, best modeling practices have emerged. Firstly, it is a systemic analysis, adopting a progressive approach from the general to the specific. We start with a resolutely business-centric focus, then add processing information in the context of the solution and, finally, if we’re using a BPMN execution engine, we model for the machine, with a view to optimal execution.

The 3 levels of BPMN modeling

  1. Descriptive modeling: This level is generally the starting point, favored by most BPM consultants. It provides an overview, sometimes to the detriment of compliance with BPMN validation rules. Nevertheless, this level is accessible and facilitates communication within the organization. It requires mastery of basic concepts such as pools, lanes, tasks, sub-processes and sequence flows, without getting lost in the complexities of flow and event control models.
  2. Analytical modeling: This intermediate level details all steps, including exception paths. It is crucial for analyzing process performance or defining detailed requirements for IT implementation. It requires an understanding of decision models, BPMN merging, events and exception handling. Level 2 diagrams must be valid according to BPMN rules and structured as hierarchical representations of the process.
  3. Executable modeling: At this level, BPMN is used for direct process implementation. Although this functionality is widely valued, it often depends on supplier-specific tools. Many BPM platforms do not support all the gateway and event types defined by BPMN, and offer their own extensions. What’s more, implementation attributes in the BPMN specification are often overlooked in favor of tool-specific details. Level 3 diagrams must therefore meet stricter validation criteria than those imposed by the BPMN specification.

Systematic rating conventions and standardization

Adopting a systematic notation convention and standardizing the representation of elements by level greatly facilitates the reading and understanding of models by non-experts. By consistently structuring the elements represented at each modeling level, it becomes easier for all members of the organization, regardless of their technical expertise, to grasp the processes being modeled. The time invested in communicating and implementing these standards is not time wasted, but rather a strategic investment that improves the clarity and efficiency of process modeling.

[Image taken from standard ech-0158 – yes, alas. it ‘s the French version…]

In Switzerland, e-ch, the organization coordinating e-governance, has published the eCH-0158 standard. This standard is an excellent starting point for any internal modeling approach, providing clear guidelines and examples of good practice. By following these standards, organizations can ensure that their models not only comply with national expectations, but are also accessible and understandable to a wide range of stakeholders.

For those wishing to practice modeling and deepen their understanding of the three modeling levels, we recommend the “BPMN modeling according to the e-ch standard” course. This course offers a detailed description of each level of modeling, from fundamental concepts to practical applications and best notation practices. It is a valuable resource for anyone wishing to master the art of process modeling to Swiss standards.

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