Most of us have thought about having a business of our own. The thrill of running and growing one’s enterprise is a tempting prospect for all. But the desire itself is not enough to set up a successful company. Establishing a business can be a taxing endeavour. There are a plethora of factors to consider, numerous plans to make, contingencies to be thought of and much else to be done. There are so many aspects to running a business that one wonders how people actually do it. In reality, most of these aspects are covered even before the business starts. During this phase, a cursory journey of the business is sketched out using a business planning tool called business-process model.
What Is a Business-Process Model?
Let’s say you decide to start a business tomorrow. How would you go about it? You’ll need to decide on things like who will be your customers? What service or products will your business offer them? How will your business make a profit? So on and so forth. Now once you start answering these questions, it will lead to even more questions for you to answer. Soon there will be factors too many to remember, yet too important to be ignored. What would you do then? You note it down.
Of course, you could simply write about all of this stuff, elaborating and documenting every aspect of your business plan. But that wouldn’t be the most efficient source to refer back to. For this purpose, we use a graphical representation of all the processes and aspects involved in a business. This graphical representation is called a business process model. It denotes the activities and workflows involved in the business using various diagrams and symbols. Let’s take a look at some of these diagrams.
Elements of a Business-Process Model:
Various shapes and symbols are used in a general business-process model for representing different aspects of a business plan. Following are some of the primary elements present in a standard business process model.
- Events – An event in a business process model is basically an occurrence related to the business workflow. For instance, ‘receiving payment’ is an event. Every model must start and end with an event. The former of which is represented by a simple circle and the latter by a bold circle. All the other events in-between are represented with two concentric circles.
- Activities – Unlike the events that occur inside a business environment, activities are tasks that must be carried out by a business employee or system. A rounded-corner rectangle is used to denote an activity in a business process model. Compound activities – an aggregation of multiple simple tasks – have a small addition symbol inside the rounded corner rectangle that represent various sub-activities involved. A rounded corner rectangle with double borders is used to depict the most critical activities of a system called transactions. If not carried out correctly, they can lead to system failure. There are also ‘call activities’ which use a global task more than once and are represented by a rounded-corner rectangle with bold borders.
- Gateways – Gateways are condition-based outcomes of a business process. In other words, gateways are used in a business process model to denote choices which the user must make to obtain the required outcome. They are represented by diamonds. These diamonds are further modified to indicate the various types of gateways used viz. exclusive, event-based, parallel, etc.
- Connections – Connections are line segments used to connect the various elements of a model. There are multiple ways in which any two elements can be connected, based on their interaction with each other. Accordingly, different types of line segments are used to signify the kind of flow that connection that exists between the given two elements. A solid line with an arrowhead, called sequence flow, is used to indicate the flow of processes in the model. Then there is a message flow which denotes the lines of communications are being shown using a dotted line with an arrowhead at one end and a miniature diamond on the other, called catch and throw symbols respectively. To signify how an external source of data relates to the flow of the model, we use ‘association’. It is depicted by a simple dotted line.
Understanding ‘Activities’ Better
We have learnt that activities represent tasks or things that need to be performed in a business process. But there is more to these rounded corner rectangles than that.
You see, activities make up the most fundamental element of a business process model. There can be no business modelling without mapping out the ‘activities’ or tasks that need to be carried out. To understand what type of work does a business do, we must first take a look at the activities mentioned in its business process model. Activities help us understand what exactly is happening at any given instance in the workflow of the business. Broadly, activities are segregated into the following four categories: tasks, sub-processes, transactions, and call activities. Each of them serves a unique purpose and has a specific symbol to represent them.
‘Task’ is the most fundamental degree of an activity as it cannot be further divided. For example, turning on a piece of office equipment. It is also known as atomic activity and denoted by a simple rounded corner rectangle.
‘Sub-process’ is a collection of atomic activities that are grouped together for a common purpose. Sub-processes are shown in two ways i.e. collapsed and expanded. In the collapsed view, there is a plus sign inside the rectangle which can be clicked on to showcase more details. The expanded view, on the other hand, provides all the details right away.
‘Transaction’ is a special case of sub-process that denotes payment-related activity. Since it is related to accepting and making payments, due care is exercised while performing it. As any mistake during the completion of a transaction can cause a major issue in the business, transactions are shown using double bordered rectangles.
Some sub-processes are required repeatedly throughout the workflow of a model. Such global sub-processes are known as ‘call’. You will find this type of activity to be present at various instances in the flow of a business process model. It can be identified as the rectangles with bold edges.
Benefits of Using Business-Process ModellingNow that we have understood what is business-process modelling and also expounded on its composite elements, let’s discuss why it is so beneficial for business planning. Below we have listed the major benefits of business process modelling:
- Visual reinforcement – As mentioned earlier, you can have pages and pages of describing a business process, but that will always lack the required ease of understanding. Furthermore, it is infeasible to go through such a huge quantity of written instructions for specific references. A visual representation solves both these problems. As a schematic allows a quick understanding of how a process works and helps focus on specific parts of the process as required.
- Streamlining operations – The biggest paradox of the business world is that you need to update yourself continuously and yet maintain the original business strategy. This means that when you modify or optimize the operations of your business process, you need a reference scale to keep them consistent. Business process modelling helps with this as you can experiment with different aspects of the business and get an immediate sense of how it would affect the entire workflow.
- Improving efficiency – Making a business process efficient and agile is the foremost purpose of BP modelling. It helps you get a comprehensive yet easy-to-grasp overview of how your business functions at any given moment. This means that you can always find and implement various methods to make this functioning smoother and faster.
- Getting an edge over the competition – In a competitive environment, the growth depends on how quickly and efficiently you adapt to changes. BP modelling is crucial for modern businesses as it allows them to quickly upgrade themselves and roll-out modified services and products to gain an early-bird advantage in the market.
- Standardization and transparency – A general business process model uses elements and symbols which are nearly consistent across all forms of business. This helps in creating a standard mould which can be applied to any new business easily. And since the representation is in a standardized format, it can be easily understood by those new to your business team. Also, having a standardised policy schematic helps the manager/CEO supervise different teams of the business process simultaneously.
We have completed a cursory overlook of the basics of business process modelling. There will be more detailed methods of modelling your business process as you delve deeper into this field. We have seen what type of elements makeup such a model. You can further explore it’s measurement formulas and examples for a more detailed understanding of how it works.