Getting the Language of Business Process Modeling right

Different organisations refer to the elements related to Business Process Modelling in different ways. This is complicated by the fact that acronyms can stand for more than one thing, and are often used interchangeably. For example, BPR stands for Business Process Re-engineering as well as Business Process Redesign. BPM itself stands for Business Process Modelling/Modeling, Business Process Model, and Business Process Management. In the healthcare sector incidentally BPM would more readily be interpreted to mean Beats Per Minute, relating to pulse rate, which emphasizes the need to explain acronyms when you use them.

Organisations develop their own ways of referring to the different elements. They know what they mean, but someone from another organisation could become very confused! This glossary may help anyone feeling lost.

Broadly the term ‘business’ below is interchangeable with ‘organisation’. Business Process Modelling is not only carried out in conventional businesses; the methodology is increasingly applicable to all sorts of other organisations, for example government agencies and departments, charities, mutuals and cooperatives, etc.

‘As is’ and ‘To be’ models
The common two perspectives of a modelling exercise – Where are we now?, and Where do we want to be? The ‘as is’ or baseline model is an accurate depiction of what actually happens now. Once the model is developed, it is used to analyse and improve the process. The ‘to be’ model is a proposed diagram of how the future process could look, incorporating improvements. This is used to demonstrate, model and test the new process and then to implement it.

Not usually part of BPM technical language, but actually a very useful initial stage in mapping or attempting to represent/understand/agree/scope a BPM project given little or no information to begin with. Also a useful way to achieve essential involvement, input, support, etc., from people affected by the modelling exercise.

Business Architecture
A vague and widely used term basically referring to the structure of a business.

Business Model
A vague term used to refer to how a business aims to operate and make money in a given market. This term is not directly related to Business Process Modelling. A detailed business model might typically contain descriptions of basic business processes implied or necessary for the the model to operate, but a business model is mainly concerned with strategy and external market relationships, rather than the internal processes which feature in BPM.

Business Process
A structured series of work activities, IT interventions and events that generate one complete service or product for an organisation’s customers.

Business Process Model
A representation – usually computer-generated and diagrammatic, but can be a low-tech whiteboard or flip-chart and marker pens and sticky notes – of a process within a business. Two models are usually produced: an ‘as is’ and a ‘to be’. The process(es) featured in a Business Process Model can be very simple or highly complex, and will typically involve different departments working (hopefully) together while the provision or creation of a product or service flows through different stages and decision-points in an organisation on its way to the customer. A Business Process Model for a large process can be comprised of other smaller modeled processes which contribute to the whole. In theory an entire huge business can be modeled  although for the modelling to be useful and meaningful to people it is normally built in sections, each representing a self-contained process alongside potentially scores, hundreds or even thousands of others, all inter-relating, hopefully smoothly, efficiently and enjoyably. (The ‘enjoyable’ part is not a technical necessity, but is actually important for any model to translate from theory into sustainable practice.)

Business Process Modelling
The term which refers to the methodology and techniques of producing a Business Process Model, or several Business Process Models, in the course of business improvement/development or quality management or change management, etc.

Business Process Change Cycle
An overall term for the life cycle of business processes, including the external environment in which the organisation operates. This external environment drives change in the business processes and the organisation responds to it by adjusting its strategy and goals. As the external environment keeps changing, the cycle also changes, prompting continuous change and improvement to business processes.

Business Reference Model
A key to understanding and using a Business Architecture Model. It presents certain core structural elements as fixed, thereby encouraging and enabling others using or developing the model to understand and adhere to essential aspects of structural policy and foundation. In this respect a Business Reference model may be relevant to Business Process Modelling.

Business Process Re-engineering (BPR)
A radical approach to restructuring an organisation in every area, starting with what the organisation is trying to achieve, rethinking its core processes and redesigning every one. It is a way of reassessing and restructuring the whole organisation, all at once, starting from scratch.

BPI – Business Process Improvement – This refers to improving existing processes, continuously and incrementally, reducing waste and driving efficiency. Six Sigma is currently one of the most popular of many BPI approaches in use today.

Business Process Management (BPM)
Used in two different ways by two different groups within the business processing community:

  • Firstly, it is used by the people and process management group to describe the overall management of business process improvement, aligning processes with an organisation’s strategic goals: designing, implementing and measuring them and educating managers to use them effectively.
  • Secondly, it is used by IT people to describe the systems, software and applications that provide the process framework.

Business Process Mapping (BPM)
Often used interchangeably with Business Process Modelling, Business Process Mapping is also used to mean documenting all the processes in the business, showing the relationships between them. This provides a comprehensive visual overview of the processes in an organisation.

Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN)
A ‘branded’ Business Process Modelling notation system of the OMG Consortium, representing several hundred primarily US computer-related corporations. (UK-English ‘Modelling’.)

Business Process Redesign (BPR)
Rethinking, redesigning and implementing one complete process using Business Process Modelling tools.

Enterprise Architecture
Basically the same as Business Architecture. Enterprise is a relatively modern term for a business organisation or company than ‘business’, probably because business has quite specific associations with profit and shareholders, whereas the word enterprise can more loosely encompass all sorts of business-like activities which might be constituted according to mutual or cooperative rather than traditional capitalistic aims. Enterprise is also a popular way to refer to business development and entrepreneurial creativity. The relevance of all this to BPM is merely the use of the word enterprise in BPM terminology, where previously the word ‘business’ would have been used.

A stage in a Business Process Model diagram or notation at which decision or choice is made because more than one main option or outcome exists.

The technical term for a Business Process Model diagram or computer-generated map or flowchart.

A methodology, and related aspect of BPM, for mapping and developing how IT systems relate to organisational operations (OBASHI stands for Ownership, Business Processes, Applications, Systems, Hardware, and Infrastructure).

Unified Modeling Language (UML)
A visual representation/design system for software-led modelling, overseen by the OMG Consortium (as with BPMN).

What if scenario
A popular term given to discussion or modelling of possible shapes, structures, resourcing and any other options that are available to people considering change in businesses and organisations. The ‘What if?’ principle extends far beyond Business Processes, but is a useful technique in team-working and attempting to make BPM methods more consultative and involving. This is especially important given that the nature of BPM (the computer systems, terminology, highly detailed aspects) often tend to position the methods as a lone job away from people and groups affected by its implications and opportunities. BPM works best when people are involved – considering questions like ‘What if?’ – and often fails when it guarded and developed secretively by technocrat minority.

The principle of increasing the usefulness, attractiveness and benefits of a product or service, which in the context of BPM, ideally improves progressively with each modelling exercise. Added-value is commonly represented as benefiting customers and shareholders (via reduced costs, and increased efficiencies and profits) but should also benefit staff/employees too.

Zachman Framework
In this list mainly because an interesting listing under the letter Z is irresistible. This is a computerized diagrammatic notation system for representing an enterprise (or business or other organisation) – notably its ‘enterprise architecture’. It was devised by John Zachman, a US ex-naval officer computer scientist, while working for IBM in the 1980s.

BPM (Picture source:

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