December 18th, 2018 • business process modeling
The very first business process modeling tools were pen and paper. Someone had the brilliant idea to visually define exactly how a process should work. One of the great parts of a visual representation of a workflow like this is that it is immediately understood by everyone else who sees it.
Over the years, business process modeling went from a big sheet of paper to an overhead projector, then to a whiteboard. All along the way, it was easy to create, edit, and share the concept with others.
Then business process modeling took a big step into the digital sphere. But instead of helping to make creation, editing, and sharing easier (they actually became harder), business process modeling tools now existed to communicate to software how to run an automated system.
Business process modeling tools help users make a digital visual representation of exactly how the workflow in a process should function. A business process modeling tool should show all the tasks in the process, who those tasks are assigned to, what happens if an item is rejected at any stage, and which tasks can be done at the same time.
The dual goals of business process modeling tools are 1) to accurately show the user how the workflow will function, and 2) to translate this information to the software so that it can run the system.
Over time, the second goal has been the more prominent one when you look at the current state of UI/UX for most business process modeling tools. They will function correctly, but building the process is often complex, complicated, and unintuitive. Let’s look at five options to see which ones work the best.
Appian is a low-code BPM platform that lets you make automated business applications. Appian’s process modeling tool uses a notation system called BPMN 2.0, which has become an industry standard among process experts.
If you already know BPMN 2.0, Appian’s layout makes sense and provides all the tools you need to make a graphical representation that looks good. The problem is that the layout is extremely complex if you aren’t an experienced programmer or BPM expert.
The average business user will have a hard time knowing where to start, and it’s a far cry from the days of pen and paper when anyone could draw or understand the process.
In many ways, KiSSFLOW feels like an entirely different business process modeling tool. It abandons the BPMN 2.0 method in favor of a more intuitive design that can be understood by any business user. The workflow designer is drag-and-drop like other tools, but tasks are arranged sequentially in a waterfall model. In addition to human approval tasks, you can add webhook triggers and system actions to make your workflow even more automatic.
KiSSFLOW takes care of all exceptions and rejections behind the scenes, leaving process makers to just design the ideal use case scenario.
Unlike Lucidchart, the model that you create in KiSSFLOW is the actual one that runs in the BPM engine.
The one drawback of KiSSFLOW’s process modeler is that it is not easy to share with others or export into a visual file.
Lucidchart is a significantly easier business process modeling tool. Lucidchart is a diagramming tool for all sorts of purposes, including business processes. With its specialization in diagramming, Lucidchart has made an impressive jump in the UI and UX experience as compared to a lot of the other tools out there. Lucidchart doesn’t depend entirely on BPMN 2.0, but it still follows a pretty complex pattern of notation including 25 types of flowchart elements.
One of the great advantages of Lucidchart is the ability to share the process model with other people. You can export the diagram as an image or a Visio file.
However, while Lucidchart will help you design a nice business process, it will not run it. Lucidchart does not have a BPM engine and cannot automate any processes for it; it only can model them.
ProcessMaker is similar to Appian in its approach as a business process modeling tool. It also uses BPMN 2.0 and requires a lot of knowledge of insider terms to get started. It’s a great tool if you are a process expert, but not if you are a regular business user, although this system is easier to learn than Appian’s.
Other advantages of ProcessMaker are its clean interface, updated UI, and the fact that you can run the process right from within ProcessMaker.
PegaSystems takes a very different approach to business process modeling. It also abandons BPMN 2.0, but it follows more closely along the lines of case management as opposed to process management.
Adding tasks and assigning them is pretty easy and requires minimal coding. Many of the additional settings take some getting used to but can provide a perfect experience for someone looking to build a very robust business process.
Along with picking the best tool, you’ll also want to consider the business process modeling technique you will be doing. Not everyone approaches business process modeling the same way, and knowing more about which technique best suits your organization can help you know ahead of time which business process modeling tool is best for you.
Flowcharts were the original business process modeling technique. They are about as simple as you can get, often drawn first on pen and paper, a flowchart often follows the pattern of a waterfall where items going through the flow start at the top and end up at the bottom. However, when technology started to be added to business processes, flowcharts were too nebulous to be read by machines. Each flowchart was unique and used its own way to show things like conditions and rejection paths.
UML diagrams are primarily used by software developers to demonstrate how data should flow through a system; they help programmers visualize the design of a system. So, when early business processes were being fed into a machine, it required a developer to ‘translate’ the process from what business users described to something that a system could interpret. However, there are 14 different types of UML diagrams and they are nearly impossible to interpret for a general business user.
BPMN (and the later-updated BPMN 2.0) stands for business process model notation and was built to solve many problems. First, only programmers could understand and create UML diagrams, and a new class of people called process consultants had emerged. These people understood both processes and the technical possibilities. So, BPMN was a language that helped consultants communicate both with clients and technology. BPMN also standardized objects and symbols across the industry so that consultants could work with each other and pick up on processes someone else had outlined.
While BPMN was a big step in bringing the process world out of the domain of technocrats, BPMN still required a decent amount of education to learn. In a modern scenario when business leaders expect to create their own automated processes as easy as they create their own spreadsheets, BPMN is still too complicated to force on users.
Modern business process modeling tools like KiSSFLOW use a slim BPMN approach that greatly reduces the number of objects available to the user. It lets you build the process much more like a pen-and-paper waterfall flowchart, but still in a way that a system can understand. When implemented correctly in a feature-rich environment like KiSSFLOW, a slim BPMN approach can handle 99% of processes without any trouble.
Choosing the best business process modeling tool is a big choice. Your biggest decision is based on who will be building these apps. For those who have experience with programming processes, BPMN 2.0 might be a good option. However, if you want your entire organization to be able to design apps, then you might want to look elsewhere.
Kissflow Digital Workplace offers a unique approach to BPM with a visual editor. It comes with built-in collaboration, case, and project management. Sign up for a free demo.
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