5 Business Process Modelling Methodologies you need to know as a Business Analyst

A comprehensive guide that will enhance your analytical abilities

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

In recent years the field of business analysis has grown tremendously in response to the growth in data in businesses, which drives the need for advanced analytical ability. It is expected of businesses, and respectively business analysts, that they should have an understanding of the value-adding business processes and should eliminate redundancies. Achieving this has become a key concern for companies, who wish to scale-up and increase their competitive advantage and efficiency. This is where business process modelling, or BPM, in short, comes in.

What is Business Process Modelling?

Business process modelling (BPM) is the practice of visualising data workflows, functions and systems, aimed at providing insight and identify areas, in which the business can improve to better reach its goals. Subsequent models can be utilised in either software development or during the restructuring of the business processes.

History and Key Arguments of Business Process Modelling

The importance of business processes is not a discovery. It initially surfaced in Levitt’s work, who discussed the positive and negative outcomes BPM, as well as those of failing to model business processes. Overall, he argued that it is the product or service’s benefit that is crucial for its success, not the product or service itself. As identified in Gibb et al.’s work, value is delivered through processes and when managed and formalised, processes can become extremely beneficial for the organisation due to the potential for repeatability, reusability and outsourcing. Levitt’s arguments have been criticised for the lack of conceptualisation or empirical support, which has resulted in them failing to gain traction upon their initial release. Some decades later, they re-surfaced through the work of Hammer; however, this time they were re-packaged as business process reengineering, as well as Harrington, who proposed their bottom-up business process improvement approach and Davenport, who proposed process innovation. What the work of all these scholars have in common is they are all promoting the perspective that an organisation should move away from a hierarchical perspective of functions towards a process-based view, utilising information technologies. As a consequence, the same should also improve the overall performance through changes in the efficiency and effectiveness of key processes.

The Business Process Modelling Process

The general BPM process should involve stages of elicitation, analysis, specification and validation, which ought to be informed through consultation and communication. A more detailed view is illustrated in the following figure, however, various scholars have suggested alterations of this process respective of their research. These are coined at the methodologies, which will be discussed in turn in the following sections.

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Business Process Modelling Process Stages

1. Systematic Technique for Role and Interaction Modelling (STRIM)

The Systematic Technique for Role and Interaction Modelling (STRIM), developed by Ould is an eight-step process, which is one of the most extensive of the methodologies. The process modelling method has two phases: an informal fact-gathering phase and a formal descriptive phase. It allows a holistic approach to modelling processes, but also provides not only the theoretical but the practical approach in doing so, making its detailed guidelines and specifications a preferred approach amongst many professionals. The notation method employed as part of the methodology is Role Activity Diagramming (RAD).

Why should you choose this approach? STRIM is an approach for advanced practitioners and can be very effective if correctly applied. The RAD has the benefit of clearly demonstrating parallel tasks and concurrent execution threads, which can be very beneficial for agile software development projects. It also shows decision points and interaction amongst actors, which is very useful for the management of complex processes.

2. Soft Systems Methodology (SSM)

Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) is used for the representation of complex systems or organisational problems with consideration of human activities and their impact on the outcome. This methodology consists of seven stages, namely (1) Define the problem situation: unstructured; (2) Express the problem situation; (3) Formulate root definitions; (4) Build conceptual models; (5) Comparison of stages 2 and 4; (6) Define feasible and desirable changes; (7) Act to improve the situation. Most importantly, it aims to understand processes from the perspective of stakeholders and the people involved in the process.

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Seven Stages of the Soft Systems Methodology

At each level, three elements are critical for the successful performance of the product, service or organisation, essentially the 3Es:

  • Efficacy: the effectiveness of output in consideration of the process task;
  • Efficiency: the effectiveness of the output concerning the resources spent; and
  • Effectiveness: the effectiveness of the output concerning strategic goals.

Why should you choose this approach? SSM is a qualitative methodology as it involves consultation and collaboration with people as a means of contextualising problems. This methodology is best suited for problem structuring and subsequent action in ill-structured, complex situations as it is one of the few methodologies that approach the problem from an immersive perspective by engaging with the real-world problem situations.

3.Graph with results and activities interrelated (GRAI)

Graph with results and activities interrelated (GRAI) methodology has been developed with the goal of better expressing the challenges in modelling processes in manufacturing systems. It uses four views: the functional view, physical view, decisional view and informational systems view as means to enable the analyst with an overview of the system and specific aspects of how it can be controlled. Each view is typically visualised through different representations.

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Overview of the GRAI Methodology

Why should you use this approach? The GRAI method provides analysts with the ability to effectively model the decision-making system of their company, or otherwise — the organizational processes that generate decisions. It is also suitable for conceptualising and demonstrating the as-is situation before ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system implementation.

4. Simulation Methodology

The Simulation methodology is not widely discussed in academic literature; however, it involves the use of several methods and applications to imitate and recreate the behaviour of systems. It is used generally when assessing how the process interacts with other processes in the system, enabling more informed decision-making thereon. It is criticised for failing to reflect actual behaviour due to the variety of variables involved.

Why should you use this approach? This methodology is used typically when a system cannot be modelled using one of the analytical approaches, illustrated previously, for whatever reason. The use of the Simulation methodology is not otherwise recommended as it is considerably more time- and cost-depleting than other methods shown in the article.

5. Object-Oriented (OO) Methodology

Finally, the Object-Oriented (OO) methodology is developed to combine the previously explained behaviour and attributes in a single entity — the object. This results in the generation of a system, which interacts with various kinds of objects, modifying its actions depending on the type of object it’s interacting with. The model allows for various techniques to be developed, amongst which is the Unified Modelling Language (UML), which will be examined in-depth in a future article as it is one of the most comprehensive toolkits for business analysts to represent various parts of a system through the use of nine different types of diagrams.

Why should you use this approach? The OO method is recommended in favour of other methods due to its ability to tackle more complex problem domains, its standardisation ability, consistency and transparency, allowing for it to be suitable as an underlying representation for further business analysis, programming or process design.

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Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

Final Thoughts…

The role of a business analyst is undoubtedly becoming more and more challenging with the rising complexity of business processes. Knowing the methodologies that can be used is only the first step in defining value-adding processes and eliminating redundancies in an organisation. In future articles, I will demonstrate some of the most prominent techniques that can be used for business process modelling, as well as the challenges and critical success factors of the modelling stage in business analysis.

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