Business Process Modeling Notation

March 2, 2011

by Ignacio Cobacho

Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) is a standard managed and maintained by the Object Management Group (OMG) created in May 2004. BPMN was created to provide a set of rules for graphical representations of a business process. The main goal is to define a notation language that could be used across different levels of an organization independently of their focus. Furthermore, it’s main focus is to serve as a cross-discipline language that can be understood by technical or non-technical stakeholders. The current version of BPMN is 2.0 was released on August 2009.

This blog post is not intended to cover the differences and advantages of each release to date, but to review the basic principles of the standard and show you the next steps to start modeling business processes.

Basic Areas

The four basic areas of BPMN are Objects (Flow and Connecting), Data, Swim lanes and Artifacts. These areas are comprised of multiple categories.

The starting point of any Business Process is a Flow Object called an Event. As common sense will dictate, every event has a starting point and an end point. Intermediate events describe something that happens in between the beginning and the end of the process. They are all depicted by a circle.

Data Objects provide specific information about the activity that needs to be performed. For example, “send email to customer” or “Print account balance”.

Swimlanes are used to organize and distinguish responsibilities across subprocesses. They can be very useful when dealing with multiple players or areas of an organization.

Artifacts allow for additional information to be included in the model that may not be directly related to an object. For instance they may provide flexibility for a programmer to document additional information for the model to become easier to understand.

Advanced Concepts

Now that we have covered the basic areas, lets expand on other crucial areas for the creation of a business process model. For the purpose of this exercise I have selected modeling elements that should cover most business process models.

Sub-processes are a collection of activities that are part of a process. These activities are broken down to provide additional detail on a process with the purpose of providing clarity to a complex task. There are many different ways of graphically representing a sub-process including:

  • Collapsed Sub-Process: Represented by a square and a plus sign in the lower-middle of the shape drawn.
  • Expanded Sub-process: Multiple sub-processes visible in the drawing with arrows pointing to the next activity or data object.
  • Gateways: They present a decision point that define merging or dividing an activity into others. Gateways are presented by a diamond shape figure. A drawing inside further defines the type of behavior. For instance, an asterisk inside a gateway expresses a complex situation with that particular activity. Please refer to the BPMN specification for other shapes.
  • Transactions represents “a sub-process that insures that all parties involved have reached an agreement that a particular activity should be completed or canceled.” (Business Process Model Notation v2.0

The location of the text, color and size of the notation is also defined in the BPMN specification. In general, the labels should be situated inside, above or below the shape. Graphical elements, such as a gateway or subprocess, should be white or clear. Lines connecting sequences or message flows should be black and of the same thickness in order to comply with the BPMN standard.


I know what you are thinking. It’s your lucky day since there is an app for that. Actually, there are multiple open-source and paid programs and plugins available that follow BPMN guidelines.

The most recommended ones, according the Business Process Modeling Forum are:

  • Magic Draw: The multi award-winning UML business process, architecture, software and system modeling tool with teamwork support ( )
  • U-Model: UML tool for visually designing application models and generating program code and project documentation. It supports all 14 UML diagram types and integrates tightly with Visual Studio and Eclipse. (
  • Oracle BPEL – BPEL is the standard for assembling a set of discrete services into an end-to-end process flow, radically reducing the cost and complexity of process integration initiatives. Oracle BPEL Process Manager offers a comprehensive and easy-to-use infrastructure for creating, deploying and managing BPEL business processes (

What’s next?

Now that you have a basic understanding of the basic components and the use of BPMN standard, I recommend you to go by the OMG website to absorb and review the extensive number of business process examples available.

You may also want to read the complete BPMN standard in detail. ( It’s a tough read. However, like every business process, it has a beginning and an end.


  1. Business Process Modeling Forum website –
  2. Object Management Group webiste –
  3. Wikipedia –

One Response to “Business Process Modeling Notation”

  1. Symya Williams said

    This is a good basic overview of the types of notations for those who are just learning what Business Process Modeling is.

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