BPMN Diagrams For Dummies

What Is BPMN?

Business process modeling notation, or BPMN, is how BPM professionals communicate the design of a specific process, be it simple or exceedingly complex. Various steps in any process may come up. Notation helps a business process management (BPM) professional identify these at a glance and describe what needs to be done at any given point during the process based on element types.

Why Is It Important?

BPMN is a standardized language and diagramming notation, supported by a vast majority of software used for process planning and execution. Beyond that, it’s a quick and unified way of describing any business process since the elements in place are universal even when used in various industries, with different tasks and inputs associated with each process. More than anything, though, BPMN is a language that enables any process to be explicitly and precisely described in any setting and allows for easy implementation when used in information technology.

Notation Elements

While there are variations of each of these elements, their main uses are identified below. Keep in mind that this is a breakdown of the most-used elements in BPMN, and not all of the elements available.


A circle, commonly at the beginning and end of a process, but also possible elsewhere. Capable of coming in various places, events are milestones in a process or actions outside of process control. Catching events are events where the process acquires a specific material or directive to act on in a later task — in other words, events that possess a particular input. Throwing events, in contrast, are events that include and produce an output that may or may not exit the process.

Start Event

The start event is the initial place for input in a process: it’s always a catching event, and it always sets a process in motion afterward. Starting events can often include an incoming order request or the arrival of a customer in a store.

Intermediate Event

An intermediate event is less common but can be used when marking a particular milestone in a process. With intermediate events, one common reason for its use is to measure a particular performance metric, such as quickness in producing a product. Intermediate events are mostly throwing events, and some relatable instances include finishing a product or service before delivery to the customer. 

End Event

An end event marks the end of a process, and just like a throwing event, it always results in a final output. It’s with the end event that the process is finished, and it’s where the customer experience usually terminates, as the customer’s request is entirely satisfied through this event’s completion.

Activities / Tasks

An activity/task is represented by a rounded rectangle trapped within the process flow arrow. In contrast to events, most of which are outside the process and direct action and control, activities are places wherein the process itself (or a micro-process within it) performs a function that progresses the workload of the process. Any activity eventually results in a change, and in most cases, those changes come from tasks or activities that perform a function on the workload. Whether it’s recording data, writing an article, programming a bot, or capping a bottle, there’s something that gets repeatedly completed at this part of the process with various workloads as the process continues with order after order, workload after workload. Activities, and tasks, in particular, are at the heart of every process, and without them, the process wouldn’t exist because processes are all about change.

Decision Points

A diamond that will always produce more than one arrow toward its end is called a decision point.

Decision points are the places in a process where more than one outcome is possible. While not every decision point does, most help to decide the outcome of a process, and in some cases, they are even the final step in the process before the end event and the output that’s delivered. In many cases, these outcomes are mutually exclusive, meaning you only get one outcome or the other. But that’s not always the case. Some decisions can also allow for parallel or mutually inclusive outcomes, and when these are noted, it’s best to pay attention.

Other Important Elements

There are other elements to keep in mind that don’t always get shown but are always present. One is the arrow between elements, known as the process flow. This is the indicator of the direction in a business process, and it’s most commonly (and most successfully) modeled from left to right in English-speaking notations. On the other hand, the workload is the order, the product, the service, an imaginary item along the conveyor belt that eventually becomes the output. As for input and output, the former goes into the process, such as materials or an order request; the latter comes out of the process, usually as a finished product or completed service.

Want to learn more about BPMN? Explore this BPMN diagram tutorial