About business processes VI. - Process drawing basics


In our previous posts, we have already touched upon the standard tool of business process visualization. The standard process drawing is a wide - known and also widely accepted method to visualize complex business processes in a unified structure that provides a transparent framework for understanding business processes. In short, the process drawing enables us to visually comprehend what is happening in the process.

However, it was not discussed yet which shapes of drawings mean what. Also, we will now discuss how process drawings function in practice and what tools are available for drawing and editing processes.


From simple to complex

There are more - accepted and known - ways to draw business processes. We choose to introduce the simplest - and therefore, the easiest to use - method for drawing business processes. This approach also provides to be useful in practice as it only consists of the following elements:

  •         Steps
  •         Decisions
  •         Executives
  •         Resources


Indication of resources and executives is only useful in case we would like to show the process to outsiders, however, if we aim to keep the process drawing flexible - having resources and executives as "replaceable elements" - then they shall not be included in the drawing. Still, we will create an easy to understand and comprehensible, full value process drawing.

Furthermore, many process steps can be executed by different persons in similar positions - just think about a call center or an administration department - so that given tasks can be distributed among many persons. Thus there might be no point in including executives in our drawing. Of course in case we use a workflow system to manage our processes, all these data can be recorded and used in the process. Therefore, the workflow will "know" which task shall be performed by who and among which executives a certain task type can be distributed.


The direction of process drawings

Fundamentally two directions might be used when preparing a process drawing, each refers to the chronology of the workflow:

  •         From left to right
  •         From top to bottom

We use the second approach, so in our process drawings, the first step is on the top, while the last is at the bottom.

Process drawing elements


Process steps represent tasks, meaning activities which shall be performed by certain executives. These steps are shown as squares, on which we may write the name of the step or its main characteristics.



Connective arrows

Process elements - should they be steps, decisions or anything else - are connected by arrows. In practice, these arrows are situated between process elements, their direction showing the order of process steps. The above image shows an arrow above and under the square (which represents a task). It means that the given task is between two other process steps - at least one before and one after it. It therefore can be concluded that a number of other steps will follow this one in the process.



Usually a number of decisions are involved during the completion of processes, resulting in different process paths, leading to different process results. These different process paths are usually called junctions in the process. At the same time, it is common that a decision might alter the attachmet of the preceding step or steps. For example: can the attached document be approved or not? Based on the decision, he process might not go on, but stop, and the attachment is sent back to a preceding process stage, for example to its original creator for review for modification or correction. In some cases the process might even restart from the beginning, for example in case a document approval process, which only aims to have the document approved. In this case, if the document is not approved, the process restarts. Bottom line is that decisions may have the process restarted or some steps shall be completed again in order to ensure that the process is completed appropriately. A good example for this was the process describen in our previous post, where the approver of an invoice had the opportunity not to approve the invoice but send it back to the process starter.


Visualization of decisions in processes is the following:



Where the decision is portrayed as a yes-no question (eg. can the invoice be approved or not?) so usually the process might go on towards "yes" or "no" directions, hence forming the aforementioned junction.

It is important that in case of a decision, the process might go on in at least two different directions, however, many other options are available. In today's sophisticated workflow systems, a number of different events or data triggers can be applied to one decision point, making the systems able to manage complex decisions based on previous parametrization. In such cases it is vital to have all possible process pathways worked out appropriately, involving different persons, approvers, and so on as the process requires. Point is that the process shall be able to achieve the aim it is intended to complete.

Coming up...

All in all the basics of process drawings are the above elements, which we will discuss in more detail in our next post along with a number of interesting cases of use, process drawing types and others.