Which Process Improvement/BPM Diagramming Notation Should We Use? (Part 1)

Should we use flow charts, swim lanes, value stream mapping, proprietary software notation, or BPMN? Yes, there a number of notations you could use, and you want to pick the right one for your organization.

The first question to ask is what is the purpose of the process diagramming notation? Since there are several purposes for process diagramming at different stages of a BPM/ process improvement project, you may switch to one type of notation or another at different times.


Purpose 1: A high level map to scope the project and as part of the charter. Here I suggest using a simple flow chart with 6- 10 steps using rectangle for activities/steps, diamond shaped decision diamonds and directional arrows. You could actually create it in PowerPoint, but I usually do it in Visio. The purpose of this map is to get people understanding what a process looks like.

  • Not a bulleted list of the activities. You want to begin to switch to a process focus, so model the high level map by drawing a process. It gets everyone seeing it on the wall or screen, and shifts away from just one person talking.
  • Not Chevrons. Chevrons are a popular way of showing concepts or stages at a high level. They serve that purpose well. I would not use them here, because you want the organization to begin to see what a process map is
Nathaniel Palmer
Author: Nathaniel PalmerWebsite: http://bpm.com
VP and CTO
Rated as the #1 Most Influential Thought Leader in Business Process Management (BPM) by independent research, Nathaniel Palmer is recognized as one of the early originators of BPM, and has led the design for some of the industry’s largest-scale and most complex projects involving investments of $200 Million or more. Today he is the Editor-in-Chief of BPM.com, as well as the Executive Director of the Workflow Management Coalition, as well as VP and CTO of BPM, Inc. Previously he had been the BPM Practice Director of SRA International, and prior to that Director, Business Consulting for Perot Systems Corp, as well as spent over a decade with Delphi Group serving as VP and CTO. He frequently tops the lists of the most recognized names in his field, and was the first individual named as Laureate in Workflow. Nathaniel has authored or co-authored a dozen books on process innovation and business transformation, including “Intelligent BPM” (2013), “How Knowledge Workers Get Things Done” (2012), “Social BPM” (2011), “Mastering the Unpredictable” (2008) which reached #2 on the Amazon.com Best Seller’s List, “Excellence in Practice” (2007), “Encyclopedia of Database Systems” (2007) and “The X-Economy” (2001). He has been featured in numerous media ranging from Fortune to The New York Times to National Public Radio. Nathaniel holds a DISCO Secret Clearance as well as a Position of Trust with in the U.S. federal government.