At last, a free alternative to BPMN!

(Previously published in Linkedin 

Business process mapping typically starts by writing each process step on a sticky note and then putting that on to a large piece of brown paper. It’s a simple method that works well, especially when all in a process workshop are physically involved in the process rather than sitting around a table. When electronic versions of these maps are created, the tool used is generally Visio or one of the many free BPMN mapping tools such as Bizagi.

Too often, people who don’t really understand process-mapping use BPMN to create process maps which are inconsistent, over complex and hard for business users to understand. The belief that putting a new graduate in front of a modeling tool can result in good process maps is misplaced!

Understanding and optimizing the processes and decisions made by people needs a more understandable approach. Reading a business process should be no more difficult than reading the original post it notes on a wall.   But the complexity of BPMN is indicated by the current specification for BPMN V2 being massive 7.1 MB PDF download of 538 pages.   Knowing how to use BPMN effectively is a daunting prospect and training institutions, consultancies and authors have a made profitable business by selling BPMN knowledge and skills. A typical three day course will cost around £3000.   BPMN is an expensive choice, and the wrong one to use for business process improvement, although perhaps appropriate for process automation.

In contrast, UPN is described in five pages on the Tibco Nimbus website.

Although the simpler, more intuitive UPN (universal process notation) was published in 2004, the only tool that supports it has been Tibco Nimbus. Which means that if you want to use it, you have to engage a consultancy. This puts the cost of it out of reach for small businesses who may be outgrowing their existing business processes and ways of working and urgently need a simple, inexpensive methodology to map and examine their business processes. (See my article The Greiner Cycle: Process Failure and Rebirth. Has your start-up outgrown its processes?)

Now two alternative tools UPN tools are available: Elements, launched this year by the creators of Nimbus, and Skore both of which are available as free versions.

UPN is loosely based on NASAs IDEF0 functional modeling notation which itself spawned the IGOE diagram. It is simple and intuitive to use and describes work by using one simple process building block: