What is BPMN? – Guide for Beginners

Processes are a part of the everyday, even if we don’t always see them that way. By cooking, cleaning, or driving to work, you’re following a multi-step system that gets work done BPMN: and that’s what a process is. But how can you tell? 

In any given process, there are identifiable parts, like the start event or activity, even a decision point. Have you had to choose between cinnamon and nutmeg when making your morning french toast? That’s a decision point. Have you given your barista your order at the counter? That’s a start event, and the process of making that quad venti soy no-foam latte is what’s called an activity. These are just some of the iconic parts of a process, and when you recognize them for what they are, you can use them in a procedure called BPMN, which is used to map out business processes for management and analysis.

BPMN, or Business Process Model and Notation, is a standardized way to show a process on a piece of paper (or increasingly, on the computer) in a visual way that can be understood at a glance. This is because it’s used in left-to-right notation (when written for English speakers and the like, at least) and coded with shapes to indicate the variety of components of which a business process can consist.

What Is It For?

BPMN, as mentioned above, is used for the management of business processes, as well as for analyzing them, and planning them out before implementation. Much like a house needs a blueprint if you want it executed properly, so too does it make sense for BPMN to be used when creating a business process for the first time. 

You can have a look at it for insights as to where bottlenecks can occur, how much inflow a process can handle, and more — all by understanding the parts and calculating the constraints, including the capacity and flow of each activity in the process. To learn how to do that, you should continue reading the BPMN guide below.

How To Read It

The business process is actually relatively simple to understand, mostly because the parts are straightforward. For example, within every BPMN diagram is an arrow. That arrow is the flow of the work being performed within the process, with the input of the flow (say, an order or a customer) occurring at the left in our instances, and the output (say, the finished product or service) on the right-hand side. But in addition to the arrow are multiple shapes, too, and these each have a meaning:


The larger rectangular boxes along any flow line, the activities are the heart of a process itself. No process can occur without at least one activity, because while processes are where work gets done, activities (like tasks and/or subprocesses) represent the actual work getting done; no transfers, no intakes, no decision points, just plain old labor of whatever kind occurring right where the box is. Each activity will have a name on the inside, like “bake pizza” or “security audit” that will tell the reader what kind of work is being accomplished.


Much like the Start Event and the End Event of a process, any Event in the middle is a place where status is stated (generally for a specific change or milestone that’s relevant to the process either by affecting it or by resulting from it). While Intermediate Events do occur, the most ubiquitous are the Start and End Events, each of which is always present in every complete process.

Decision Points

Also known as gateways, these are places where a flow diverges or converges due to some specific stimulus. When a flow is mutually exclusive to either divergence, you’ll follow only one path to the end — but there are gateways that simply split the process between different silos that contemporaneously perform their assigned work, maybe even converging once again before the process ends. Each decision point within a process is truly unique to that type of process. 

How To Use It

You know the main parts of a BPMN diagram, and you’re able to read them now: so how do you use that knowledge? You can use BPMN to inform your impressions of a business’s performance, for one thing: by looking at the design of a process, you can see where there might be slack time (a place where more work can be done before a workload reaches its next destination) or bottlenecks (a place where work is held up by lowered flow rate of a particular point in the process). 

You can also use it to plan ahead when deciding to make a business process of your own. By notating it appropriately, you’ll have a standardized blueprint that others can follow as they help you create and operate the business process. You can even use it as a reference sheet so that when your computers tell you what points in the process are failing, you know where to go on the sheet, and what activity is meant to be happening there.


Business processes are always there, and it’s only through tools like BPMN that we can see them clearly and in a way that’s comparable to other business processes. When you’re able to do this, you may find yourself getting all the more invested in your operations — especially if you have a BPMN tool that can let you experiment with different designs all day long.

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