Modelling technology is key to analysing and understanding business processes

Modelling can help combat process communication problems

Everything we do is a process and could conceivably be put into a standard operating procedure. This was the message that emerged from a lecture presented to the BCS by Jon Holt, entitled "A Pragmatic Guide to Business Process Modelling".

Processes often look deceptively simple, but involve many parts. There will be different viewpoints from both observer and executioner, as well as traceability, where one can follow the steps involved in the process' evolution. There will also be roles, for those people or things (shareholders) involved in the process.

Processes modelling is the best way to understand and analyse processes, and goes under various names, including business process modelling and business re-engineering.

Processes can encounter many difficulties, and modelling helps to combat some of these issues, namely complexity, lack of understanding and communication problems, both between people and systems.

There are many modelling techniques, including flow charts, RACI matrix tables and unified modelling language.

UML, where symbols and pictures are brought to the fore, originated in the software world and has taken the best bits from a number of other languages.

UML is a visual software language that uses an ISO standard. Created in 1997, it is the consolidation of 120 or more techniques and notations, and is probably the best modelling format currently available.

As with any powerful tool, UML still needs to be utilised appropriately. The rationale for using UML is that it is accepted internationally, uses ISO 19805, has a UK government mandate, is intuitive, and can be used extensively throughout an organisation.

There are different types of processes, including very high level (ISO), high level (PAS), medium level (in-house processes), low level (procedures) and very low level (guidelines).

A process description should meet an organisation's requirements, and needs at least some aspects of validation. A process model should aim to organise process knowledge.

Any process will have different viewpoints, the most pertinent being:

  • Requirement view: specifies the overall aims and is essential for validation.
  • Process structure view: specifies the structure of concepts and terminology used, and pins the language down.
  • Process content view: identifies actual processes in each group and encourages analysis of actual requirements.
  • Stakeholder view: identifies shareholder roles within an organisation, project or system and presents shareholders in a classification hierarchy. Additional relationships may be added as appropriate.
  • Process instance view: ties everything together and relates back, showing instances of processes and stakeholders and how they interact.

Confidence in a process is essential, and timeliness is crucially important, as requirements do change over time. Therefore, the model and the process need to be checked periodically.

Ultimately, modelling is an important process tool as it promotes discussion between interested parties.

What is UML?

Unified Modelling Language (UML) is a non-proprietary, object modelling and specification language used in software engineering.

Although UML was designed to specify, visualise, construct and document software-intensive systems, UML is not restricted to modelling software. UML has its strengths at higher, more architectural levels, and has been used for modelling hardware and is commonly used for business process modelling, systems engineering modelling, and representing organisational structures.

Jon Holt's book, A Pragmatic Guide to Business Process Modelling, is available from the BCS


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